SRL Quick Clicks Where to Get Help Forms Representing Yourself in Court Opening or Re-opening Your Case How a Lawsuit Proceeds If You Can’t Attend a Scheduled Hearing Filing Pleadings What Does “Service” Mean? Violations of Court Orders or filed agreements in Divorce or Parentage Cases Modification of Orders or Agreements during or after a divorce Court-Appointed Attorneys WHERE TO GET HELP Court Programs to Help Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs) The First Judicial District Court offers some help to people who do not have lawyers. SELF HELP CENTER The Court’s Self Help Center is located on the ground floor of the Courthouse, next to the Court Clerk’s Office. The Center’s phone number is 505.476.0177. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org . The Center is staffed from 8–12 and 12:30-4:30 Monday – Friday (excluding holidays) by a Court employee who can provide forms and procedural information. She CANNOT fill out the forms for you or tell you what to put in the blanks, but she can explain the forms to you so you understand what information is required. You can obtain forms and information there. Please be aware that they may not have forms for every purpose. There is also space to sit down and fill out the forms. The Center’s staff CANNOT give you legal advice. They CANNOT fill out the forms for you or tell you how to fill out the forms. They can explain what information the forms are asking for, but you must fill in the forms in your own words. The Center’s staff cannot tell you what you should do in a given situation. PLEASE DO NOT ASK COURT STAFF FOR LEGAL ADVICE. The Self Help Center also has two public access computers that have software to produce the Child Support Worksheets that must be attached to all parentage (paternity) or custody cases and any divorce case that involves children under the age of 18. The computers may ONLY be used for the Child Support Worksheets. They do not have any other software, and do not have Internet access. FREE FAMILY LAW CLINICS FOR SRLs The free Family Law Clinic for Self-Represented Litigants is offered once a month by the First Judicial District Court, the Paralegal Studies Program at the Santa Fe Community College, and private attorneys who volunteer their time to try to help people who can’t afford a lawyer. The Clinics are offered on the fourth Saturday of each month at 9:00 a.m. at the Santa Fe Community College. You can get general information about divorce and parentage cases and help filling out the forms packets at the Clinics. Bring your forms with you to the Clinic. DO NOT bring children with you to the Clinic – there’s nowhere for them to play safely by themselves, and you can’t leave them unattended. A free half hour consultation with an attorney is also available by voucher only. You can obtain a voucher by attending a Clinic and asking for a voucher afterward. When you receive the voucher, you call the attorney’s office to make an appointment. The attorney you see can give you advice about your particular situation. MEDIATION FOR DEVELOPING PARENTING PLANS If you have a parentage case, or you are divorcing and you have children under the age of 18, you will have to file a Parenting Plan that describes how you and the children’s other parent will take care of them. If you can’t come up with a Parenting Plan on your own, mediation may be the best way to help the two of you work through your differences. A mediator is a neutral third person who has training in mediation and communication techniques. The mediator’s job is to help you try to work out a solution that you both can live with. Where can you find a mediator? There are several places. o Family Court Services offers mediation with court employees who are master’s level counselors with extensive mediation training and experience. Mediation through Family Court Services is on a sliding fee scale. o Private mediators also offer mediation. They have varying types of training and experience. They are usually not lawyers. Their fees vary from person to person, and may depend on the type of case. o Some attorneys offer mediation. They also have varying types of training and experience. They cannot represent or give either person legal advice, but they can give legal information. Their fees vary from person to person, and may depend on the type of case. SETTLEMENT FACILITATION FOR DEVELOPING MARITAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS (PROPERTY DIVISION ISSUES) The Court has an Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) Program that offers attorneys who have mediation training to help people work out solutions they can both live with. The ADR Program is available in CV, DM, and PB cases. Settlement facilitators are neutral third parties who DO NOT represent or advise either party. However, settlement facilitators, because of their legal training, can help each party evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own and the other side’s case. Mediators and settlement facilitators are not judges – they do not make decisions for the parties or tell them what to do. Other Places to Get Help look for applicable statutes, rules, and forms at the Supreme Court Law Library: www.supremecourtlawlibrary.org, located at 237 Don Gaspar Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87501, (505) 827-4850. the public libraries have some information as well as public access computers; Legal FACS website: legalfacs.org Law Access New Mexico Help-Line: 1-800- 340-9771 (income-qualified) NM Legal Aid: 1-800-373-9881 or 982-9886 in Santa Fe (income-qualified) The New Mexico Child Support Enforcement Division can help you with paternity cases and with child support cases. Call them at (800) 288- 7207, or find them on-line at www.hsd.state.nm.us/csed/ . Some attorneys offer limited advice or representation. For instance, you could hire an attorney just for advice about a particular part of your case, or you could hire one to review the documents you created by using the court’s forms. Attorneys refer to this as “unbundled services”: instead of buying the whole package you buy just the part you most need help with and can afford. FORMS You can get forms from a number of sources – on-line, books, the Supreme Court law library. You are not required to use forms from any particular source, but you are required to use the correct form for the purpose. Many forms are available free from the Court’s Self Help Center. A number of forms packets for family law cases, including divorce, custody and child support, and parentage are available for purchase from the Court’s Self Help Center for $10.00 per packet, or you can download and print them yourself. The Court’s Self Help Center has many forms, but they may not have a form for everything you may need. Links here for packets, forms REPRESENTING YOURSELF IN COURT In General 1. When you do not have an attorney, you become your own attorney. You must follow the same rules that a lawyer must follow. If you fail to follow the rules, you may permanently lose important rights. 2. Every case is handled according to the statutes (laws) and the rules. Be sure you know what laws apply in your case. You must follow the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules whenever you appear in court for any reason and whenever you file anything. They tell you what information must be included in your pleadings. They tell you how to file, how long the other side has to respond, how long you have to respond, etc. The Rules of Evidence govern all the information that is offered in your case. They tell you what information may or must be presented to the judge or hearing officer, and how to present it. The judge can only hear information that is allowed by the Rules of Evidence. Be sure to study the Rules before you do anything. You may find the rules and statutes at the Supreme Court Law Library, www.supremecourtlawlibrary.org. The documents that are filed in a lawsuit are called “pleadings”. 3. Do not try to talk to the judge or hearing officer in private! He or she cannot talk to one party without the other party being present. All your interactions with the judge or hearing officer will be in the formal setting of a courtroom, in “hearings”, which are governed by the Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of Evidence. 4. Provide a current and reliable mailing address and telephone number to the court, hearing office and the opposing party. Once you appear in a case you may be notified of hearings or motions by mail only. If you move and you miss a hearing because your mail fails to reach you, you may permanently lose important rights. If you move after the first time you file a pleading, you should file a change of address in the court file. The judge or hearing officer will only mail notices to the address you provide in the court file. If you have a protective order in place that keeps your contact information confidential, you must file a Motion for Order to Seal so that alternative arrangements can be made for notice. You can get a Motion for Order to Seal at the Court’s Self Help Center or download and print it from this site. 5. Appear at all scheduled hearings. Arrive at least fifteen (15) minutes before the scheduled time and make sure the administrative assistant, bailiff, or court monitor for the Judge or Hearing Officer knows that you are present. If you have requested the Court to do something and you do not appear, your request will be dismissed. If the other party is asking for something and you do not appear, they will normally get whatever they are asking for. If you do not appear at a scheduled hearing, you may permanently lose your opportunity to be heard on the issue. 6. Be Prepared! Bring all your documents with you whenever you have a hearing. You must provide the other side with copies of everything you want to show the judge – before you get into court. If you have documents you want to show the judge, bring copies for the other side. 7. If you, or any witnesses you may need to testify, need an interpreter to help understand the hearing, you should inform the administrative assistant for the judge or hearing officer assigned to your case at least twenty-four hours before the hearing. An interpreter will be provided at no cost for anyone who needs help understanding English. If you have any other special needs to assist you in participating in your hearing, please inform the administrative assistant as soon as possible after receiving notice of hearing. Every effort will be made to ensure that your access to all services of the court will not be limited. 8. The Court Clerks can give you information from the Court file including your case number, who the assigned judge is, and what pleadings have been filed. Clerks may not give you legal advice about how to proceed in your lawsuit. You can see what is in your case file by coming to the courthouse and asking at the Clerks Office to review the court file. You can get copies from the file for a charge of 35 cents a page. You MAY NOT remove anything from the court file. 9. Some documents must be notarized. Notaries are available in the Self Help Center, in the Clerk’s Office, and the offices of the judges and hearing officers. You must have a picture identification and you must sign in front of the notary. If you have a document that must be notarized, DO NOT sign it until you are physically in front of the notary. Please do not ask notaries to sign for someone who is not present. Remember that having your signature notarized means you swear that the contents of the paper you've signed are true, under penalty of perjury. Courtroom Behavior 1. When you come to court, dress with dignity. Do not wear shorts, flip-flops, halter tops, tank tops, baggy jeans, T-shirts with rude messages, or other distracting clothing. Make sure any metal on your clothing (e.g., belts, shirts/jackets with metal buttons) can be removed, or you won’t make it through security. Be clean. 2. Don’t be on time – be early, at least 15 minutes. You need to allow time to go through security, find your courtroom and check in. Remember to allow time to find parking and get to the courthouse. Bring enough change for the parking meter – you can’t get change in the courthouse, and once your hearing starts you can’t leave until it’s over. 3. Don’t chew gum or eat or drink in the courtroom. 4. Turn your cell phone off, not just on “vibrate”. 5. At your hearing or trial, you address the judge as “Your Honor”. If your hearing is before a hearing officer, you address her as “Madame Hearing Officer” unless she tells you to call her something else. 6. Stand up when you address the court. Sitting down while you’re talking to the judge only happens on TV. 7. DO NOT BRING CHILDREN TO COURT. Unless a child has been subpoenaed to testify, find a babysitter. Children are not allowed in the courtrooms or hearing rooms. No day care is provided by courthouse staff. Children may not be left unattended. OPENING or REOPENING YOUR CASE You must follow the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules whenever you file anything. They tell you what information must be included in your pleadings. They tell you how to file, how long the other side has to respond, how long you have to respond, etc. Be sure to look at the Rules before you do anything. You can find them at www.supremecourtlawlibrary.org. Many forms are available from the Self Help Center, including packets of forms for divorces and parentage (paternity) cases and kinship guardianship cases. The Self Help Center DOES NOT have every kind of form you might need for every purpose. There is no general Complaint form to open a civil case. To Open or Re-Open a Case: 1. You open a case by filing a Petition or Complaint. All documents in the case are filed in the Court Clerk's Office. Any filed document is called a “pleading”. When you file your case, you must have the original Petition and enough copies for each person who is a party and the judge or hearing officer. If you do not have enough copies, the Court Clerk will make them for you at a cost of $.35 per page. The original pleading will be kept by the Clerk for the Court file. The copies will be stamped with the date the pleading was filed. These are called “endorsed” copies. Many forms are available at the Self Help Center. Many of these forms are also available to download from this web site. Click here to link to the Forms page. Please remember that the Self Help Center does not carry a form for every purpose. You may need to do further research – the Supreme Court Law Library is a good place – to figure out what information to put in your pleading. 2. In order to open a new case (or reopen a case that has been closed for more than ninety days) you must pay a filing fee. Click here for a list of filing fees. Personal checks are not accepted. You must have cash, or a cashier’s check or money order made out to the First Judicial District Court. If you cannot afford to pay a filing fee you may request free process or a reduced fee on the Application for Free Process. Remember that the information you provide on the Application for Free Process is under oath, subject to perjury. Also, if evidence that is introduced later at a hearing differs from the information on your Application for Free Process, you may be ordered to pay the fee. 3. After you file your Petition or Complaint, you must "Serve" the opposing party. Study Rule of Civil Procedure 1-004 (www.supremecourtlawlibbrary.org) to find out how to properly serve the other party. If service is not proper, your case will be dismissed. If you are reopening a case that has been closed for more than 45 days, you must file a Summons and Petition or Motion, and you must have these pleadings personally served by the Sheriff, or a person who is not a party and who is over the age of eighteen (18) years. If the case has been closed more than 90 days, you will also have to pay a filing fee. HOW A LAWSUIT PROCEEDS After a Petition or Complaint is served on the other party, they have 30 days to file an Answer. Nothing will happen in your case until this time has passed! Judges will almost never act without giving both sides an opportunity to present their side. After the case has been opened, whenever you want to ask the Court to do something, you must put your requests in the form of a written Motion or Request, file it, and provide copies to the other side. A copy of everything you file must be provided to the other party. All motions on ongoing cases and correspondence must be mailed to the other party or their lawyer. You must note on your pleading or correspondence when you mailed it to the other party. This is called a “Certificate of Service”. The other side always has a chance to respond to a Motion or Request made by one side. Check the Rules of Civil Procedure to find out how long you have to respond to a Motion filed by the other side, or how long they have to respond to a Motion you file. If you ask the Court to do something (by filing a Motion) and the other side objects (by filing a written Reply to the Motion), the Court may decide the issue based on the written pleadings (the Motion and the Reply), or the Court may set a hearing so that both of you may present your side. If you want to talk to the judge to present your side and not just rely on the written Motion, you must file a Request for Hearing. Click here for a Request for Hearing form. If the Court decides to have a hearing, you will receive a Notice of Hearing that sets the date and time that you MUST appear. Do not try to talk to the judge or hearing officer in private! He or she cannot talk to one party without the other party being present. All your interactions with the judge or hearing officer will be in the formal setting of a courtroom, in “hearings”, which are governed by the Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of Evidence. If you have received a notice of hearing you must be prepared to present all your evidence on the day of the hearing. Bring copies of your written evidence (exhibits) and provide them to the other party before the hearing. If you need a witness to help you prove your side, you may request the Clerk's Office to issue a subpoena for that witness. The Sheriff's office may serve subpoenas for you. Rule of Civil Procedure 1-045 sets out the rules regarding subpoenas and witness fees. Expert witnesses such as doctors, psychologists or accountants may require advance payment of fees. You should consult with any experts you wish to testify for you before you arrange for a subpoena. IF YOU CAN’T ATTEND A SCHEDULED HEARING If an emergency arises which requires you to vacate (cancel) or continue (postpone) a hearing, follow these steps: 1. You must contact the other party, unless you have an Order Prohibiting Domestic Violence, and tell them that you need to cancel or postpone the hearing and why. Find out if they will agree to cancel or postpone the hearing. 2. If the other party agrees, you must call the judge or the hearing officer's administrative assistant and tell them you are going to file a request for vacation or a continuance. Then fill out a Motion for Vacation or Continuance, being sure to state that the other party does not object to a continuance, and file it. You can get a Motion for Vacation or Continuance from the Court’s Self Help Center. 3. If the other party does not agree, you must call the judge or the hearing officer's administrative assistant and tell them you are going to file a request for vacation or a continuance, and the other party does not agree. Then fill out a Motion for Vacation or Continuance, stating that the other party does object to a continuance, and file it. 4. The judge or hearing officer may grant the continuance, or he or she may set a hearing in person or by telephone to hear the other party's objections before ruling on your request to continue the hearing. 5. A hearing is never canceled or postponed until the judge or hearing officer cancels or postpones it. Just because you or the other side has filed a motion to vacate or continue the hearing doesn’t mean it has been granted. Make sure you have heard from the judge's administrative assistant that you do not need to appear before you fail to appear. FILING PLEADINGS WHAT DOES “SERVICE” MEAN? VIOLATIONS OF COURT ORDERS OR FILED AGREEMENTS IN DIVORCE OR PARENTAGE CASES 1. Motion for Order to Show Cause – for alleged violations of anything having to do with money, e.g., child support, interim income allocation 2. Motion to Enforce – for all other alleged violations of Orders, e.g., failure to transfer title to car or other property 3. Include a Request for Hearing with the Motion MODIFICATION OF ORDERS OR AGREEMENTS DURING OR AFTER A DIVORCE Corrections Supplemental pleadings Finality of certain categories (property, no alimony, etc) “Evolution” of child custody and child support orders - material or significant change of circumstances, etc. File a Motion to correct, supplement, modify, etc. Include a Request for Hearing with the Motion. COURT-APPOINTED ATTORNEYS The court may appoint an attorney to represent anyone who is at risk of being jailed for violation of a law or court order. This is the ONLY time the court will appoint a lawyer to represent someone. If you are accused of violating a civil law or a court order, you will have received an Order to Show Cause. DO NOT IGNORE THIS ORDER! This Order tells you to come to court and tell the judge why you should NOT be put in jail for violating the law or an order. If you do not appear at your Show Cause hearing, the judge may issue a Bench Warrant for your arrest. If an Order to Show Cause has been issued against you, you may obtain a packet for Application for Appointment of Attorney from the Self Help Center. The packet includes a Motion for Appointment of Attorney, an Affidavit of Indigency, and an Order for Appointment of Attorney. Fill in the Motion and Affidavit and file them in the Clerk’s Office. Then take endorsed copies to the Judge’s assistant. If your Motion is approved, …. If you are the person who filed a Motion for an Order to Show Cause, you are NOT entitled to an attorney to represent you, because you are not accused of doing something (or failing to do something) for which you can be jailed. Instead, you are the one who is accusing the other person of violating the law or a court order.