Self-Represented Litigants

A judge cannot give special treatment to a party because the party does not have an attorney. However, a judge may make reasonable efforts, consistent with the law and court rules, to facilitate the ability of self-represented individuals to be fairly heard. As a self-represented litigant, you are required to follow the same procedures and rules as attorneys. Your motions, response, notices and methods of service must comply with the law. Failure to comply with the law can result in denial of your motion and sanctions which can include paying the other party’s attorney fees. It is highly recommended that you seek advice from an attorney before filing any motions/petitions. However, if you proceed without an attorney, you may seek guidance from the following resources:

For information on where to find free legal help, click here.

For information on where to find free legal help as a veteran or active duty service member, click here.

For information on the Circuit Court of Cook County’s interpreter services, click here.

For information on the Circuit Court of Cook County’s accessibility and ADA compliance services, click here.

For answers to frequently asked questions, please review the following:

Who Works in Domestic Relations?

How Can I Help You Help Me?

How do I File for Divorce?

How do I Serve the Other Party?

The Other Party and I Do Not Agree: What Comes Next?

The State's Attorney's Office is Involved in My Case: What Does That Mean For Me?

How do I Calculate Financial Support?

How do I Modify an Order?

How do I Get a New Judge?

How do I Change a Judge’s Decision?

How Can I Take Care Of Me?

For drafting guides with step-by-step instructions, click here.

For help brainstorming what you would like to see happen for the core legal issues that will need to be decided before your case is over, please review the packet that best describes your family:

Co-Parenting

Married

Married with Children

Tips for Court

1. You need to dress as if you were going to an important function.  You need to be on time.  If your case is called and you are not present, orders against your interests may be entered.  While sometimes you may have to wait, you should be early and assume that your case will be called at the time the matter is set for.  In some court rooms, even being a few minutes late can have consequences.

2. Make sure that your paperwork meets the legal requirements for a valid complaint.  Because you are not an attorney, you need to make sure that your paperwork clearly outlines what you seek from the judge and why you believe that you are entitled to this relief from the court.  You can review a sample petition at a law library or by visiting a site that provides legal information to pro se clients like illinoislegalaid.org.

3. Bring your evidence to court and be prepared to present your case on the first court date even if the case may be continued.  A court functions on evidence and proof.  Judges generally seek more than your testimony to prove that you are entitled to the relief you seek.  Proof can include written contracts, receipts or cancelled checks for money that you claim you have paid.  In addition, you need to be prepared to respond to the argument that the opposing party will make. 

4.  When you are in front of the judge, you should speak directly to the judge and not the other party or other party’s attorney.  The judge will allow both sides to make arguments.  Do not interrupt the opposing party or opposing attorney while they are speaking to the judge.  It is important to remain calm and wait for your turn to speak.  Generally, whatever party brought the motion/petition gets to speak first to the judge and then the other party gets to respond.  If more than one person is speaking at the same time, the judge will not be able to hear anyone’s argument.  Also, unruly behavior in court can lead to a contempt finding and potential incarceration.  

5. When you speak to the judge, be prepared and be concise. The courts are very busy, and you need to focus only on the most important details of your case.  Many people provide a lot of unnecessary details that are not relevant to the case.  You should introduce yourself to the judge and tell the judge why you are in court.  You should try to state your position in two or three sentences.  Then you need to listen and respond to what the opposing party (or attorney) is saying.

6. Every time you are in court, you need to review the court order that is written and make sure that the order accurately reflects what happened that day in court and what is going to happen next in the case.  If you disagree with what is written in the order, you should try to work out the disagreement with the opposing party.  If you cannot resolve the matter, you will need to tell the clerk that you need to talk to the judge to clarify the order.  You should ALWAYS take a copy of the court order that is entered when you appear in court.

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