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Pro Se Divorce Litigation, Obtaining a Divorce Without an Attorney

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Pro Se divorce litigation means you are representing yourself in your divorce case, without an attorney. The procedures that you must follow are the same if you are Pro Se, except you will be responsible for filling and filing out all the legal forms. Some of the factors that play a role in a person deciding on a Pro Se divorce are:

  • They can’t afford to hire an attorney.

  • They are getting an uncontested divorce, have no children or marital assets and don’t want the added expense of an attorney.

  • They become dissatisfied with their divorce attorney and feel they could do a better job on their own.

Before you take on the job of representing yourself in your divorce case consider the legal aspects, not only the emotional aspects of the divorce. If you are not able to keep the two separated, it is best to hire a divorce attorney. Issues such as dividing marital property, deciding child custody, negotiating alimony and determining child support can have long-lasting, negative consequences if not handled properly.

You have the right to represent yourself, to be a Pro Se litigant but, the divorce process can be complex and I highly encourage anyone who can afford representation to seek it, if at all possible. If you choose to go Pro Se and represent yourself in your divorce case you should become familiar with your state divorce laws, the current version of your states Rules of Civil Procedure, your states Family Court Codes and the rules that are followed in your local county court. Your best resource of needed information will be a state law library; most have websites and your local Court Clerk’s Office.

Beginning The Pro Se Process:

The spouse who files for the divorce is called the Petitioner. The other spouse is called the Respondent. If you are the petitioner, you will file an “Original Petition for Divorce.” If you are the respondent the petition will have been filed, you will have been served and now you will have to respond. Below are things to consider before filing an Original Petition for Divorce:

  • Where to file the Original Petition.
  • How to file.
  • Although most states have no-fault divorce laws, you may want to plead grounds such as adultery.
  • Notifying your spouse that you have filed for divorce.
Where to File:

Contact your Court Clerk’s Office or learn your state divorce laws to find out the resident requirements before filing. In most states, you have to have been a resident of the state for at least six months to a year before you can file for divorce. Your county will also have rules regarding residency. You must file your petition in the county where either you or your spouse have lived long enough to set up residency. Once this has been determined you may obtain the needed forms from your Court Clerk.

Filing Your Petition for Divorce:

You should hand deliver or mail the petition for divorce and two extra copies to your local Court Clerk. The clerk with stamp them with the date and file the original with the court. The two copies will be date stamped and one returned to you for your files. The other is used to notify the Respondent that a petition has been filed. There will be a fee for filing the Original Petition for Divorce. The fee will vary from court to court. Since you will be expected to pay this fee at the time you file you should call ahead to determine what the fees will be in your case.

If you can’t afford the filing fee you can file an affidavit with the court asking the court to waive the fees. If you need to do this, pick up the affidavit at the same time you pick up the petition for divorce. You will want to have it filled out and ready to file at the same time you file your petition for divorce. If a judge approves your affidavit, your filing fee and other court costs will be waived.

Grounds for Divorce:

If you feel you have reason to file a petition with grounds such as infidelity, desertion or abuse you should be extremely careful when filling out the forms and filing your petition. I’ve already discussed the fact that divorce is not only a legal issue but an emotional one also. The courts are only interested in the legal aspect of the divorce. If you feel, due to misconduct in your marriage that you are due a larger portion of marital assets or alimony please keep any inflammatory language or details of improper marital conduct out of the petition. Keep it short and sweet! For instance to plead the ground of physical abuse, you should say, “Petitioner requests a divorce on the grounds that the Respondent has committed multiple acts of physical abuse.” Don’t say, “Petitioner requests a divorce because the Respondent beats me up every time he/she has too much to drink.”

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