It depends on the facts of your case. Many domestic cases are successfully resolved with self-represented parties. Hiring an attorney for advice, instructions, document preparation, or limited representation may help you get through your case successfully at a far lower cost than if you hired an attorney for full representation.
If your case has complex issues or involves serious allegations like sexual or physical abuse then you may need a full representation attorney and it may make sense for you to try and save up for a retainer and/or discuss a payment plan with your attorney.
Once your custody or divorce case is filed and the other party has answered you may be scheduled for one or more of the following types of court appearances:
1 - Scheduling Conference – This is usually the first time all the parties come to court. This is the court’s opportunity to find out what the issues are in your case and to order any additional services that might be needed like a temporary hearing, parenting education, mediation, drug or alcohol assessments, psychological evaluations, home study, or custody evaluation. The court will also give you some dates and deadlines for various parts of your case.
2 - Status Conference – Different courts use status conferences in different ways. Depending on the county you are in and the facts of your case a status conference may or may not include testimony and evidence. It is generally a way for the court to check in on a case and make sure things are progressing appropriately.
3 - Settlement Conference – Depending on what county you are in a settlement conference may be held early in your case or closer to the end. This is the courts effort to bring the parties together and see if an agreement can be reached so that there is no need for a contested trial.
4 - PL (pendente lite) Hearing – This is a temporary hearing where the parties will present testimony and evidence. Usually it will be set in the early to middle part of your case. The court may decide issues like custody, child support, or alimony on a TEMPORARY basis at this hearing. A PL Order resulting from this hearing will only be in effect until the court passes a final order at your Merits hearing or Trial.
5 - Merits hearing/Trial – This is the final hearing in your case. This is your opportunity to present testimony and evidence including witnesses and documents to the court to prove your case. Anything you want the court to consider must be presented at your merits hearing/trial.
6 - Motions hearing, Contempt hearing etc. – There are many issues that may come up in the course of a case and require a special type of hearing, these do not happen in every case and depend on the particular facts of your case.