5 Ways to Start the Legal Process On Your Own

When thinking about the legal system, most people immediately think about two major stressors – time and money.

And here’s the truth: these are both legitimate things to stress about.

When life brings you a situation that involves the legal system, it means stepping out into uncharted territory. This is true even for lawyers who suddenly find themselves the subject of a lawsuit. The system moves at an inconsistent pace, sometimes feeling too fast and sometimes droning on very slowly. The expenses can be unpredictable and they accumulate quickly at some times and stay stagnant at others. At the outset of a case, there is no way to know how long a case is going to take or how much it is going to cost.

Jane Doe is here so that survivors of abuse always have a resource for legal help. Still, even with our sliding fee scale and coaching options, some people simply cannot afford a lawyer. For those who can afford legal help, they may want  to fight the case on their own for purposes or principle or empowerment.

Whether you are waiting until you can afford legal help or planning to get through the case on your own, here are five things you can do to get the ball rolling.

1. Assess Your Goals
Put aside all legal jargon, statute language, and fancy terminology for a while. Look at the situation you are in and decide what you truly want to accomplish at the end. This does NOT mean figuring out what you are most likely to get, nor does it mean guessing what you deserve. Decide with certainty what you actually want to accomplish by the end of the case and write it down. Believe it or not, this is one of the hardest things for people to do when they visit a lawyer’s office. Without the end goal, though, you have no way of knowing how to proceed.

2. Know Who You’re Dealing With
Most legal proceedings will involve two sides. No matter how well you think you know the other side, there is always room for something to catch you by surprise at the worst possible time. Reduce the risk of this happening by getting to know the other side of your case as well as possible. Look the opposing party up on a program like CaseNet to see if they have been involved in any other court cases. If they have an attorney, look them up on the state bar website do an Internet search for reviews and case history. The more you know about the other side of the case, the better you will be able to strategize moving forward.

3. Know Yourself
Think of the situation you are dealing with right now. Has this situation amplified from another situation you tried to handle? Is this situation similar to another event in your life? If yes, then how have you failed or held yourself back in the past? In general, is there a way you tend to sabotage your own success? These are very personal questions that you may even wish to discuss with a counselor or therapist. The legal process can get intense, and there is little room for emotional decisions. Knowing yourself and whether you have a pattern of certain tendencies will help you overcome hurdles that arise with your case.

4. Draft the Paperwork
For many legal proceedings, the paperwork is available online on county websites. Research the language of the law to determine exactly what you need to do to reach your goals. Then, find the paperwork you need and start filling it out. If you represent yourself in court, you will have to get used to making your way through dense legal paperwork. If you plan to work with a lawyer, getting this information all written down in one place will help your lawyer work more efficiently on your case once you hire them.

5. Find an Advocate
Having a support system is crucial for getting through hotly contested legal matters. While you pick and choose which friends and family members to share your story with, you should also look to see if your local courthouse has professional advocates available to help. A legal advocate is someone generally employed by the courts or another local agency. They are not lawyers, but they can help walk you through the legal system and be there as a professional source of support. Advocates also have a wealth of information about community resources available at low or no cost. Even if you hire a lawyer, the support of an advocate can be invaluable throughout your case.


Do you have questions about the legal system?

If you have experienced abuse and have questions about the legal process in the aftermath of that abuse, you can click the button below to schedule a no-cost phone consultation with an attorney at Jane Doe Advocacy Center. Or, click the banner below to attend a small group workshop on how to represent yourself in family court.

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Litigate? Negotiate? Mediate?

Going to court can be so much more than it seems. Most people think of going to court as automatically going to trial and having a dramatic display of personal information. Really, court does not have to be that way at all. Depending on the type of case you are facing, there are several different ways to resolve disputes. Some of the most common ways are as follows:

  1. Negotiation. Once a case is filed in court, the two sides of the case can talk back and forth about what they want and how they are willing to compromise. Through a series of conversations and exchanges like this, they can reach an agreement on how to resolve the case without any legal proceedings. This process, which is usually done between lawyers representing the two parties, is called negotiation. When negotiating, emotions can run high on both sides. It is important to keep an objective eye on what is at stake in a negotiation, especially if several offers are exchanged back and forth. Successful negotiation generally results in what is commonly referred to as a “settlement.” When a case is settled through negotiation, the judge must approve the term of the settlement before it becomes official. This serves as a way of making sure the parties agree to something that is fair.
  1. Mediation. If the two parties do not want to get lawyers involved at all, then they may choose to mediate. In a mediation, the two sides of a case sit with a neutral third party who helps them have a conversation about the issues at hand. By opening up a dialogue and engaging in active listening, a mediator helps the parties reach a resolution that works for both of them. Mediation is particularly common in civil cases where money, property, and family matters are involved. Most mediators will go as far as helping the parties write up their agreement(s) on official court forms so that they are easy to push through without a lot of room for controversy after the mediation.
  1. Litigation. When the parties choose to leave the decisions in the hands of the court, then they turn toward litigation. This is when formal hearings and trials take place to determine the outcome of a dispute. In traditional litigation, each party tells the court what they want to happen. They then present evidence that shows the judge why they think their request should be granted. The judge takes an objective look at the evidence from both parties and makes a decision. Litigation is promising because it almost always guarantees a resolution to the dispute at hand. That being said, many people become frustrated with the formalities of litigation. For example, the law has certain rules about what may be used as evidence. Even if something is very convincing to a lay person, it may not be allowed in court.
  1. Collaboration. The practice of “collaborative” law is relatively new and unregulated. While some states have formal associations and processes for collaboration, we use this term to reflect another common method of conflict resolution at Jane Doe. When a client chooses to collaborate, we sit down with all parties and their attorneys to have a confidential conversation about the issues at hand and help the parties reach a resolution. Unlike a mediation, in a collaboration meeting, the facilitator(s) is/are not neutral. In fact, the meeting is generally run by the attorneys for each party. The goal is to find a solution that is in the legal best interests of the parties without the time and expense of going through formal court proceedings.

How you choose to resolve a conflict depends on you, your needs, and the willingness and cooperation of the other party. If there is something you particularly want or do not want, then you should communicate that with your lawyer up front. For example, some clients really want to go to trial even if their case could be resolved through a settlement. Conversely, some people really want to attempt mediation even if the other party is uncooperative or unreasonable. If you have strong feelings about how you want to address your case, you should discuss those feelings with your lawyer so that they can give you sound advice and help develop a case strategy accordingly.

The most important thing to remember is this: Regardless of how you choose to address the issues at hand, any of the methods above may lead to a court order that is legally enforceable. How you get to the end result has little to no effect on how much power the resulting decision has under the law.


Do you have questions about resolving a legal dispute?

If you have experienced any type of sexual abuse and have questions about the legal process in the aftermath of that abuse, you can CLICK HERE to schedule a no-cost phone consultation with an attorney at Jane Doe Advocacy Center.

Where is my child support?

Survivors of sexual and domestic violence frequently share children with an abuser. When leaving the abusive situation, unanticipated needs come up, particularly with regards to the children. This leaves many survivors needing some form of financial support from the other parent.

Under Missouri law, there are a few different ways to get child support ordered, including:

  1. Orders of Protection
  2. State of Missouri’s Department of Social Services
  3. Family Court Order

Depending on your specific circumstances, one or several of these options may be right for you. Consider your larger purpose before choosing which avenue through which you look to obtain child support.

Orders of Protection

Orders of protection, commonly called “restraining orders,” are crisis orders that help protect survivors from future abuse and harm. The purpose of an order of protection is to immediately respond to an incident of abuse and give you a tool to keep yourself safe from threats of future abuse. If you share children with the alleged abuser you are filing an order of protection against, then the court may issue a temporary award of child support to help support the children until a long-term arrangement can be made. While orders of protection are relatively quick ways to get child support ordered, its primary purpose is not to establish any sort of financial arrangement. Any child support order that comes from an order of protection is temporary. If a judge foresees custody becoming an issue in the future, they may even choose not to address child support at all in the order of protection.

State of Missouri

The most effective way for most people to get child support is to go directly through the State of Missouri’s Department of Social Services. This will allow you to start a child support case without bringing up any tangential issues like custody or abuse. Unlike the other options, a child support case with the state can also run simultaneously with other court cases, resulting in the most efficient turn-around time for most child support orders. For example, you can file a child support case with the state while also filing a custody case in family court. This may result in a child support decision before the conclusion of the custody case. This means that most people receive their money faster and more consistently than they do by other methods.

Family Court

When you go to family court for a child custody case (including a divorce case between parents who share children), then child support will automatically become a part of that case. This means that you can get child support ordered or modified in family court. This works well because it allows custody and support to be handled simultaneously, allowing for flexibility and less paperwork on your end. Because custody cases may take some time, though, it may not be the most efficient way to get a long-term child support order.

Regardless of which method you choose, you can estimate how much you will receive and/or owe in child support by doing a mathematical calculation using a document called the Form 14. You can do this calculation online at www.freeform14.com.


Do you have questions about child support?
If you have experienced any type of sexual abuse and have questions about the legal process in the aftermath of that abuse, you can CLICK HERE to schedule a no-cost phone consultation with an attorney at Jane Doe Advocacy Center.