Self-representation part of evolution in family law

By Sharon Silbert

Greater client participation in family law is a positive development, though it remains important for parties to consult with legal professionals on complex matters, St. Catharines family lawyer and mediator Sharon Silbert tells Nexus magazine.

Depending on the jurisdiction, more than 70 per cent of litigants in family law cases can be self-represented, reports Nexus, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law alumni publication. The growing number of self-represented parties has contributed to widespread court backlogs, the article says.

Despite efforts from the province to help such litigants, the issues persist, Nexus reports.

“People tell me that they can’t ever get the level of assistance they need, because their interactions with these people are so brief. (The service providers) are never going to be in a position to fully understand what’s going on in the case, or be able to provide more than snippets of information,” Silbert, of Silbert Family Law, says in the article.

While system backlogs should be addressed, the move towards more client participation isn’t necessarily negative, says Silbert.

“With respect to handling complex legal issues, people may not be able to handle things on their own. But at the same time I question the assumption that a third party, such as a judge or even a client’s own lawyer, is going to be in a better position than clients to say what’s best for them,” Silbert says in the article. “Clients are the ones whose lives are being turned upside down; they’re going to have to live with the outcome. So doesn’t it make sense that they take more of a role in determining what that outcome is?”