New handbook helping Islanders represent themselves in family court

·2 min read
Family court hearings are held at the Supreme Court of P.E.I. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)
Family court hearings are held at the Supreme Court of P.E.I. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)

A non-profit organization in Charlottetown has created a legal guidebook to help Prince Edward Islanders who choose to represent themselves in family court.

Community Legal Information published its free 70-page book, How to go to family court without a lawyer: A handbook, using funds from the Law Foundation of PEI, a non-profit organization.

Emma Chilton, a publication manager at the non-profit, said the number of people representing themselves in family court is growing, and they've received many inquiries about the process.

"We've been aware of the need for this resource for a while."

The book can help while preparing for a legal case, with or without a lawyer, Chilton said.

We're seeing an increase actually, in the number of people who either aren't able to afford a lawyer or decide to represent themselves for another reason. — Emma Chilton

"This handbook could be useful for anyone going to court, even if you decide to hire a lawyer in the end or you're accepted for legal aid. This handbook could be a great starting point for understanding the process of going to court."

Being expressive with legal terms is hard

Chilton said most people struggle to represent themselves in court due to legal jargon.

"For you and me it's much harder to really articulate ourselves, and the needs of our children, and why what we're asking for makes the most sense for a family," she said.

"Lawyers spend a lot of time training and immersing themselves in the language used by the court."

There isn't any issue representing yourself in court, but without help the process can be long and frustrating, Chilton said.

Submitted by Emma Chilton
Submitted by Emma Chilton

The handbook guides readers through how the legal process works, and gives tips on legal writing and research, she said.

"It really does a higher level, step-by-step through what a trial looks like, what a hearing looks like, when resolutions can happen and what they look like."

Chilton said the handbook has been reviewed by seven legal professionals across P.E.I.

Need for legal literacy

So far, reviews have been positive, as expected, she said.

"We were expecting this handbook to be useful to a wide range of people but we've been interested to find that people seeking legal information about court processes other than family court have picked it up."

Chilton urges Prince Edward Islanders to inform themselves on their legal rights, and be empowered to face a judge.

"I hope that people take the steps to inform themselves and make decisions based on what they've learnt," she said.

A digital handbook can be downloaded online, or a physical copy can be picked up at the Community Legal Information office.

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