Divorce Without a Lawyer

Pro se (Latin meaning “for one’s own behalf”) means a spouse represents him or herself and appears in court in a divorce action without a lawyer.

In a divorce, 
 pro se lawyering works best in cases where the action is uncontested and without fault, in termination of a short-term marriage with no children, both spouses employed, easily distributed assets and debts. If the spouses control their own worst impulses, pro se lawyering can cut costs dramatically.

Pro se lawyering works only when the spouses are in agreement with one another about an uncontested divorce. When there are no issues for the court, their agreement reduces the action to a sequence of filings without any legal questions. Pro se lawyering does not work sell or inexpensively if one of the parties uses a lawyer. When a party appears as a pro se litigant, he or she must understand that the other spouse’s lawyer cannot and will not assist him or her. No lawyer can represent both spouses in a divorce.

Uncontested divorces make it is easy for a person to appear pro se, but even with this, the petitioner should review the paperwork with a lawyer.

Pro se lawyering works when both parties an keep the legal and emotional facets of a divorce separate. Dividing marital property, deciding child custody, negotiating alimony and determining child support can have long-lasting, negative consequences if not handled properly. It does not make sense to divorce inexpensively and then have to return to court later to renegotiate a livable child support agreement. A poorly planned divorce that ends in bankruptcy for one or both partners after it is final can more than offset the savings of a pro se divorce.

In some of the jurisdictions, the divorce paperwork for uncontested actions dovetails easily into pro se procedures. In some places, a court appearance is not required. California, for example, offers a summary, step-by-step divorce that reduces the action to an administrative procedure.

Sometimes people file pro se when the spouses cannot afford a lawyer or don’t want the added expense of an attorney or become dissatisfied with one they have retained.

A person deciding to divorce pro se should become familiar with his or her state’s divorce laws, the current version of the state’s rules of civil procedure, the state’s family court codes and any local county court rules. The best resource of needed information is the county court law library and local and state websites.

In most states, before filing, a party must a resident of the state for at least six months to a year. The county may also have rules regarding residency. The petitioner must file the petition in the county where either   spouse has lived long enough to establish residency. Once residency has been determined the petitioner may obtain the needed forms from your court clerk.

As in other actions, the spouse who files for the divorce is petitioner; the other spouse, the respondent. The petition is called the petition for divorce. The petitioner delivers the petition for divorce and two extra copies to your local court clerk. The clerk time dates them and files the original with the court. The two copies will be date stamped and one returned to petitioner. The other is used to notify the respondent that a petition has been filed. There will be a fee for filing the original petition. The fee varies from court to court. Payment is expected when the petition is filed, so the petitioner should know ahead of time what the fee is. An indigent petitioner who cannot afford the costs can file an affidavit asking the court to waive the fees. The affidavit can be picked up at the same time as the petition for divorce. The petitioner should have it completed and ready to file at the same time he or she files for divorce. If a judge approves it, the filing fee and other court costs are waived.

The party filing for divorce states a reason as part of the petition or letter. In most states, this will be irreconcilable differences or incompatibility based on new no-fault divorce laws. Knowing the state’s divorce laws helps familiarize the petitioner with the grounds for divorce.

The divorce process does not begin until the filing of the petition with the court clerk. Petitions can be obtained online. It is best to get all the proper paperwork from the court clerk so they will be specific to the laws and procedures of the court and the jurisdiction. The petition contains a statement in plain and to the point language regarding the cause of the divorce action and the relief sought – in this case a termination of marriage.

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