Litigation legal services are expensive, but if you are involved in a family court case in Vermont or New Hampshire, you have options that can reduce the cost of litigation while still receiving legal assistance. Both Vermont and New Hampshire have made it easier for parties to represent themselves in family court while having the assistance of an attorney at various times during the litigation:
- “Unbundling” legal services: In the past, if a lawyer was representing a client in family court, the lawyer was required to represent the client in all aspects of the case. This sometimes resulted in duplication of services and additional unneeded legal expenses. For example, while a client may need a lawyer to represent him or her in a child custody matter, the client may not need the lawyer to assist in child support issues. However, the rules used to require the attorney to be present at all hearings and proceedings. Now Vermont Family Proceedings Rule 15 (h) and New Hampshire Family Division Rule 1.19 allow an attorney to file a limited appearance, provided that the requirements of VRFP Rule 15 (h) or NHFDR 1.19 are met. Thus if you believe you need an attorney’s services for only part of your family court proceeding, and are able to represent yourself in other aspects of the case, your attorney can file a limited appearance for the part of the case where you need legal assistance.
- Obtaining an attorney’s advice while representing yourself: Most attorneys will be glad to give you advice about your case without requiring you to hire them to represent you in court. You can seek advice during any part of the proceedings, but I believe it is particularly important to talk an attorney about any agreement you have reached before signing the agreement. An attorney can help make sure the language in the agreement properly expresses what you agreed to. More importantly, an attorney will often be able to point out areas which may not have been covered, or pitfalls you may not have thought of. Attorneys can also assist you in drafting pleadings or agreements, but remember in New Hampshire, you must notify that court that a New Hampshire licensed attorney drafted the court pleadings.
- Educating yourself: Whether or not you hire an attorney, it is good advice to go to the Vermont or New Hampshire Judiciary pages to obtain information. Both the Vermont Judiciary Website and the New Hampshire Judiciary Website have good information for parties involved in family court litigation, and litigation forms that you can fill out yourself here and here.
- Obtaining and organizing financial documentation: Whether you are represented by an attorney or representing yourself, gathering and organizing financial documentation is a sound way to reduce attorney time and costs. In our office, if we are representing clients in Vermont Family Division, we provide the client with Form 813 A and 813 B, the financial affidavits required by the Vermont Family Court, and a checklist of documents we need—generally documents supporting the disclosures on the 813 forms. Vermont Family Court now only requires tax returns, pay stubs, and health insurance information—information necessary for child support determinations. We ask clients to provide the additional documents because they are necessary to determine property division and spousal maintenance. In New Hampshire, the Family Division requires a financial affidavit form and in the near future will also be requiring “Mandatory Initial Self Disclosure” (Family Division Rule 1.25A) which will require the same type of documents this office already requests our clients provide to us. Obtaining and organizing financial documents may seem onerous, but it will save time and money because you will need that information whether there is a contested hearing or a negotiated settlement.