How Do I Represent Myself?

If you begin a case as the plaintiff, or are brought into a case as a defendant, and you do not have a lawyer representing you, then you are "pro se," that is, you are representing yourself, and you are responsible for navigating the court system, following its rules and time deadlines, and learning what you need to do to reach your goals. Without a lawyer, no one is going to do this for you.

Representing yourself in an even “simple” case is NOT a simple feat. Filling out the forms and following unfamiliar legal steps requires tremendous amounts of patience and attention to detail. Any small misstep or error may bring unexpected and serious implications for your life and the lives of your family members. Additionally, the chance of losing the case is greater when you represent yourself in a case where the other party has an attorney. Therefore, we strongly urge you to give careful consideration about your decision to represent yourself in court. If you are considering the self-representation option due to financial reasons, we urge you to visit How Do I Find a Lawyer? for links to organizations that provide legal services free of charge or at substantially reduced rates for qualified individuals.

The following resources are provided to help you understand the basics of a court case as a self-represented litigant in civil and family cases. If you have a criminal or juvenile case, contact an attorney.

Keep in mind: only individuals can file a civil suit on their own behalf. Companies cannot represent themselves; they must obtain legal counsel.

Scales of Justice

Preparing for & Attending Court

To make sure that you get all notices and papers in your case always update the Clerk of Court and the other party with your current address.

Make sure your witnesses know when to come to court, how to find the court or hearing room, and what they are expected to do during the court proceeding.

If you have to miss your court date because of an emergency, call the Assignment Office (240-777-9000) BEFORE you are scheduled to be in court.

On the day of your appearance in court:

  • Make sure you arrive at the Circuit Court early.
  • Check the television monitors in the lobby for the location of the courtroom or hearing room where your case is assigned. If your case is not listed, check with the Assignment Office on the 1st floor of the North Tower (next to the security station at the Maryland Avenue entrance).
  • Upon arrival at the courtroom or hearing room, check in with court personnel. If you are not in the courtroom or hearing room when your case is called, your case could be dismissed, or the Court could rule in favor of the other party.
  • Check to make sure that your documents and other evidence, and copies for the Court and the other party, are with you and are in order.

Avoiding Common Errors When Representing Yourself

In order to be valid, service by certified mail must be restricted delivery; that is, only the responding party can sign for the papers.

YOU CANNOT SERVE THE OTHER SIDE YOURSELF. You can provide service one of several ways:

  • Sheriff
  • Private Process
  • Certified Mail
  • Download the Service of Process Brochure (PDF) for more details.

    A letter without a "certificate of mailing" will not be accepted as an Answer in Montgomery County. It is recommended that the responding party use sample family law answer forms provided by the Maryland Courts.

    The Answer filed must contain a specific response admitting or denying each individual allegation.

    The responding party must sign both the Answer form and the Certificate of Service to certify that a copy of the Answer was mailed to the opposing party.

    Additional Resources

    If you have questions about processing the forms or are unsure about whether it is wise to handle your case without a lawyer:

    Maryland Courts Self-Help Centers

    Free legal help with your Civil or Family matter

    Logo for Maryland Courts Self-Help Centers


    8:30 am-8:00 pm, Monday-Friday

    Lawyers will answer questions on a full range of civil case types handled by both Circuit and District Courts. Legal issues include:

    • Landlord and Tenant Matters
    • Family Law Matters (divorce, custody, child support, and guardianship)
    • Small ($5,000 or less) and Large (over $5,000) Claims
    • Expungement and Shielding of Records
    • Consumer matters like car repossessions, debt collection, and credit card cases
    • Return of property (replevin and detinue) cases
    • Domestic Violence/Peace Orders
    • Foreclosure

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