When judges and commissioners ask you for help with their cases, you feel the need to answer the call.

In Salt Lake, the commissioners have a lot of cases not involving attorneys. In lawyer talk, we call these cases “pro se” (pro se is Latin for “on one’s own behalf” in case you were wondering).

As you can imagine, Commissioners often have a difficult time with these cases since the people doing them aren’t versed in the law or legal procedure. Because of this, they ask attorneys to help get things sorted out.

I help out every so often, and it’s always interesting.

You might help someone finalize their Utah divorce paperwork because they provided the wrong Return of Service.

You might help with a mediation between two parents over custody and parent-time.

You might help someone who just got out of prison get reestablish parent-time with her kids that she hasn’t seen in 10 years.

You might help enforce a Utah divorce decree because one parent hasn’t paid child support for three years.

And, you know, you might do all of these things on the same day.

The pro se calendar gives you an appreciation of just how difficult it can be to navigate the divorce system alone. Unless you’re a lawyer or have been through the system, it’s Byzantine and intimidating. The language is strange, the culture is different, and you don’t know when to sit or stand.

A useful lesson we lawyers can take from this is that we should educate everyone we meet with about the divorce system. We should educate our clients so they know what’s happening and can follow along. We should also try to educate those who aren’t our clients, so they don’t feel so lost if they have to go it alone.

We’re the ones that know the system, and we should share the knowledge with others.

On the other hand, if you’re thinking about going it alone on your divorce, think very carefully about that. You’re entering a strange new world. It’s usually best to get a guide (read: attorney), but, if you don’t, make sure you do your homework. Lots and lots of homework.

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