I represented myself throughout a highly acrimonious child custody proceeding; if I had to put a percentage on it, I would say I had counsel 5% of the time. The adverse party had counsel through most of the proceedings; if I had to put a percentage on it, I would say 95%. I started out with visitation, supervised, 2 hours per week. I now have primary physical custody, sole legal custody, and the adverse party has only supervised visitation which is currently suspended.
You can turn the Titanic around, it just takes work.
Since you asked how, and not whether or not you should, I’ll skip ahead to that part.
First, find your State’s statutory scheme. In Nevada, this would be The Nevada Revised Statutes. Then, find the relevant chapters. There may be several. Just in case, check and see if there are administrative code mirroring any of those chapters. In Nevada, this would be The Nevada Administrative Code.
Second, the State’s rules of civil procedure. In Nevada, this would be The Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure. Then, work your way down in context. For me, this meant the District Court Rules, and the local Washoe County District Court Rules. Keep an eye out for the Supreme Court Rules or other rule structures that apply to your local jurisdiction.
Third, research case law. Google Scholar is free and will actually contain published opinions. Make sure you don’t use ordinary Google searches. Even better would be if you had access to Lexus Nexus and legal software like that.
Fourth, look at pleadings filed by attorneys and assimilate their style. Be careful not to assimilate their mistakes.
If you haven’t spent at least 100 hours doing steps 1 through 4 you’re not doing something right. The lazier you are, the more you leave things up to luck.
Learn the context of each proceeding. Mediation. Settlement Conference. Pre-Trial. Discovery.
Learn the tools. Motion. Petition. Complaint. Extraordinary Writ.
After you’ve done everything right, start to emotionally detach yourself from your case. Analyze it logically. Put yourself in adverse counsel’s shoes and think of how you would win if you were them. Analyze the law carefully to see if your case has flaws.
Finally, after doing all of this, expect to lose. If you win, you are elated because you expected to lose. If you lose, you expected that anyway, and you’re already moving on to the next step. Appeals.
Carefully read the rules of appellate procedure. In Nevada, this was the Nevada Rules of Appellate Procedure. I won two appeals in the Supreme Court of Nevada. I also filed a writ petition that published under Falconi v. Secretary of State, 129 Nev. ___, 299 P. 3d 378 (2013).
Don’t be cruel. Don’t harass the adverse party. Don’t harass the attorney. The judges expect this. Be different.
Alex Falconi, Administrator at Our Nevada Judges (2014-present)