Pro sé literally means on one’s behalf, so in court, pro sé means you represent your case before the judge rather than by a lawyer. Representing yourself in court for a child support judgment may seem scary, but with the right preparation, you can successfully claim the arrears you are owed while saving thousands of dollars that it may cost to use other services.
When to File Pro Sé
Before deciding if filing pro sé is for you, you need to know your other options. Child support cases typically go through the local child support enforcement (CSE) office, but they are not always effective, as only 62.2% of cases in 2016 received a payment. If there are complications to your case, an overburdened caseworker may not be able to give your case enough time to make meaningful progress on helping you collect, if your state still has caseworkers.
Lawyers can help you claim your child support arrears, but their costs can be out of reach for many mothers who are interested in hiring them. They can cost $100- $500 an hour, or $2,000- $10,000 if you pay an upfront retainer fee. And this is before additional costs are included; lawyers hire private investigators if they need to locate your ex and his assets. They can cost an additional $40- $200 an hour, plus charges for mileage or other expenses.
There are collection agencies that specialize in helping moms collect their arrears, but their fee is 34-55% of the arrears they collect. On top of that, they take their cut off the top, making sure they get their payment before they release any of the money to you.
If these options haven’t worked or are out of financial reach, filing pro sé may be the way to go, especially if you are tired of sitting around waiting for other people to tell you about progress, or lack of progress, on your case. You know your case better than anyone, so taking charge of collecting yourself may be the fresh start you need. It will be more work, but if you are willing to commit to it, it can save you thousands of dollars that it would take to pay an attorney and help you keep the money that an agency would take before handing it to you.
Let’s Take an Example
To understand the benefits of representing yourself, let’s look at two cases, Amber and Rachel.
Amber’s ex hadn’t paid a cent in child support in three years and owed her over $15,000 at this point. She had a decent-paying job at a marketing firm, giving her some cushion in her budget but not a lot of time to spare in her day, so she hired a lawyer to help her collect the arrears.
She paid thousands of dollars for a retainer, already a good portion of what she was owed. That cushion in the budget started tightening more when she found out her oldest needed braces and would have to go on a monthly payment plan to cover the cost.
Over a year passed, and her case had barely budged. She had occasionally heard from her lawyer, but she got more and more frustrated as time went on. Eventually, she was told that they couldn’t even locate her ex, so there was nothing they could do.
Rachel, on the other hand, could not afford a lawyer. Her family needs the $20,000 in arrears her ex owed to catch up on overdue bills and help pay for her daughter to start voice lessons.
She had to start hunting for everything she could find, pulling bank statements, looking for old receipts, overdue bills, anything she could get her hands on to show the stress she was under without the child support payments. Then, after what felt like countless hours of researching and talking to people at the courthouse, she found the documents she needed to complete. Everywhere she turned she got conflicting information about how to complete her paperwork and where to file it, but after a couple of tries she found where to submit everything.
Months later, she finally got her judgment, strengthening her ability to collect what she was owed. Filing pro sé consumed Rachel’s life, and she knew this was only the beginning. She still had lots of steps to take before she ever saw any of her arrears, but she knew it would be completed on her time, not when her attorney happened to get to it.
Challenges to Filing Pro Sé
To successfully file pro sé, you need to know the court’s process, what you need to bring to make your case, what the steps before and after the hearing are, and where to file all the necessary paperwork, the specifics of which will vary from state to state.
Filing for a judgment on child support arrears pro sé can be challenging, but claiming the child support you are owed when other methods of collection have not worked for you will make all the effort worth it. Your children deserve to be supported by their father, and a supermom like you is capable of claiming what you are owed.