Asymmetry of Representation in Poor People’s Courts 

March 1, 2024

This Essay examines the asymmetry of representation in poor people’s courts, specifically in child support enforcement cases involving the State.  The asymmetry of representation is a common occurrence in various civil law fields, but it is notably prominent in family law, which has the highest number of unrepresented parties.  As one of the authors has previously explained, we use “poor people’s courts” to refer to state civil courts that hear family, housing, administrative, and consumer cases.  These courts present severe challenges to the civil justice system because they are characterized by a substantial volume of cases, socioeconomically disadvantaged litigants, and an absence or asymmetry of representation.  Of increasing concern are the problematic outcomes in poor people’s courts; the pro se, low-income litigants in these cases typically lose out to the creditors, landlords, and municipalities that they come up against.  This asymmetry in representation also presents a challenge for government attorneys who have to negotiate with these litigants on a daily basis.