No. The judge will typically advise a pro se (i.e., someone representing themselves in their own divorce action) litigant that they shall be expected to follow the Rules of Court in New Jersey just like as if they were a seasoned attorney. Furthermore, the lawyers at our law firm here in East Brunswick, New Jersey, appreciate that while a New Jersey Family Court may be more likely to been understanding of the fact that you are not a lawyer, the Court is not required to be more tolerant or more kind to you just because you are not an attorney. Finally, since 1996 I have been meeting with new clients who handled their own divorce and then come to our firm for a consultation only to find how extremely difficult it is to change a divorce agreement after the fact. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words and for purposes of this blog, it is easier (and less expensive) to do it correctly the first time than paying a lawyer after the fact to attempt to fix problems with your divorce agreement, some of which you may not even aware of, yet.
All told, especially when it involves your children as well as your financial security, it is essential to have one of our attorneys from our law firm in order to ensure that your divorce concludes in a fair manner.
In the Guirguis case the pro se litigant appealed her case arguing that they were at a disadvantage as because they did not have a lawyer. They lost this argument.
In Guirguis v. Morris, the parties married in 2006 and had one child born of the marriage. The parties divorced in December 2012 by dual judgment of divorce, which included the parties’ matrimonial settlement agreement. A matrimonial settlement agreement is an agreement by the parties that describes the terms of the divorce, such as child custody and child support, property division, and alimony. After the divorce was entered, the parties engaged in continuous motion practice, which led to the Superior Court of New Jersey entering several orders.
On February 1, 2016, the trial court entered an order denying Morris’s motion for reconsideration of an earlier order. The February 1, 2016 order also granted Guirguis’s motion, in part, in support of litigant’s rights. Morris, who was pro se, or self-represented, appealed the February 1, 2016 order on March 17, 2016. Morris attached a case information statement with his appeal. However, several months passed and Morris did not file a brief or appendix with the New Jersey Appellate Division as required by and in compliance with Rule 2:6-1 and Rule 2:6-2. The Appellate Division accepted Morris’s brief and appendix, but did not accept that it met the proper standards. Rather, the Appellate Division accepted Morris’s brief and appendix so that Morris could argue his appeal on its merits.
The Appellate Division noted that parties to appeals must completely comply with the appellate court rules. The court addressed rule compliance in Still v. Ohio Casualty Insurance Company, and stated that the rules were adopted to ease the appellate process and violations of the rules would not be allowed. Similarly, the Appellate Division, in Abel v. Elizabeth Board of Works, stated that the rules are more than guidelines. The Appellate Division stated that it could impose sanctions, or punishments, including dismissal of a case, for failure to follow the rules. Rule 2:9-9 states that failure to follow the appellate process could result in dismissal or attorney’s fees sanctions. Additionally, the Appellate Division stated that it does not afford leniency for pro se parties. The court explained that just because a party is self-represented does not mean the party does not have to comply with the appellate rules.
The Appellate Division explained that dismissal is the most severe sanction afforded by the rules and must be cautiously considered. After consideration, the Appellate Division held that other sanctions in this case were unsuitable and dismissed Morris’s appeal. The court reasoned that monetary sanctions or document suppression would not make up for the insufficiencies in Morris’s appeal because Morris’s brief failed to provide a detailed statement of facts, a legal argument with point headings, and the issues relating to the appeal. The court explained that a detailed statement of facts is important to the appellate process because it allows for neutral examination of the record. Similarly, the court explained that point headings are important to the appellate process because they allow for suitable presentation of the law of the case. The Appellate Division further stated that it is not obligated to search through Morris’s brief to find the support for his argument. The court explained that it was not only improperly burdened by Morris’s failure to abide by appellate rules, but it was prevented from employing its judicial role. Lastly, the Appellate Division explained that it would not give Morris the opportunity to re-file because he had several opportunities over the course of many months to comply with the rules but failed to do so. Therefore, the Appellate Division held that Morris failed to comply with appellate procedure and dismissed Morris’s appeal with prejudice.
If you or a loved one is facing a divorce or any other family law related situation, please never hesitate to contact our office to learn how we may help and protect you.