The Connecticut judicial system, to its credit, provides many resources for self-represented individuals who are going through a divorce or child custody proceeding. Connecticut has even published a Do It Yourself Divorce Guide, which is available both online (http://www.jud.ct.gov/publications/fm179.pdf) and in most courthouses across the state. These resources however, offer a sense of false security to people attempting to manage their own divorce.
Every Judge in Connecticut will tell self-represented parties that they cannot give legal advice. The clerks and courthouse staff are trained to explain to self-represented parties that they cannot give legal advice. So – if the court system cannot give legal advice, how can they publish and offer a do it yourself divorce guide? The answer, quite frankly, is that this guide is not advice, and, aside from telling the party which form to fill out, does not in any way protect the legal interests of self-represented parties. The guide is self-serving – it is meant as a tool to make the process more efficient. This is not meant as a criticism of the judicial system – they have an interest in running an efficient system and guides like this are a good way to spread information.
As an example – Connecticut’s Do it Yourself Divorce Guide has a section on alimony. It gives a general definition of alimony and then says “If you want alimony, tell the court how much you want, how long you want to get alimony, and for what reason.” What the guide does not tell you is that there are specific statutory criteria that the court must consider in determining alimony. The guide does not tell you what those factors are, and does not tell you how to effectively argue those factors in your favor. Simply telling a judge that you want alimony is not sufficient. The guide does not tell you these things because it can’t – doing so would constitute legal advice.
The simple truth is that most people going through a divorce don’t know enough about the process, or the law, to even realize what they don’t know. Many people see this guide and think, “why do I need a lawyer when the information is offered by the court system?” The answer is that only an attorney can give you legal advice. You should not be lulled into the false security of relying on courthouse publications and thinking they are legal advice.