You must notify your spouse (Respondent) that you have filed a petition for divorce. Your Court Clerk can answer questions you have and let you know if there are county specific that need to be followed. Most courts require you to notify the respondent in one of the following ways:
- Serve the Respondent yourself and have him/her sign a waiver saying he/she has been served.
- Hire a process server to serve the petition on the Respondent with a formal notice of the filing of the petition prepared by the court clerk.
- If you can’t locate the Respondent can’t be located you may request that he/she be served via publication or posting. This can only be done with a court order and your court clerk will know the process for serving via publication or posting in your county.
Now that you have filed the petition for divorce and had the respondent served you will need to take the following steps to move the process along:
- File a notice of hearing for temporary orders. If you have marital assets, children, a mortgage to pay and other financial needs you may file a motion with the court for temporary orders. Orders that will take care of any financial issues you have between the filing of the petition and the final court date. Temporary orders normally cover child support, child custody, temporary alimony and such. If a hearing date is set you will once again be responsible for making sure the Respondent is notified.
- File a notice of hearing to set a date for the final divorce hearing. Some states have a waiting period before a final court date will be set. This is something you will learn by studying your states divorce laws and communicating with your Court Clerk. Again, when a hearing date is set you are responsible for making sure the Respondent is notified./li>
- Begin the Discovery phase. “Discovery” is a legal mechanism designed for gathering information about either party to the divorce. During discovery, you will be able to request documents from the Respondent such as, bank statements and any other documents you feel are needed. This is called “Disclosure.”
You will also be able to send a list of questions called “Interrogatories” to the Respondent during this phase. State laws differing on how long the Respondent has to respond but, all states have a certain time frame in which you can expect a response to your questions. You can also set up any depositions you wish to conduct during this phase. Call your Court Clerk to ask if there are certain forms that have to be used or research online for sample forms or actual court documents related to the discovery process.
- Take part in Mediation.Most states have made mediation a part of the divorce process. Mediation is an alternative to the formal process of divorce court. During mediation you and the Respondent meet with a court appointed third party to negotiate and try and resolve any conflicting issues such as division of marital property, division of pension funds and alimony. It is your opportunity to negotiate the best possible divorce settlement you can. If all issues can be resolved there will be no need for divorce court.
If mediation didn’t work and there are unresolved issues a trial date will be set. During the trial, both parties have the chance to argue their case before a judge. The judge will then examine all the evidence and make a decision based on what he feels would be a proper settlement and outcome. If you go to court as a Pro Se litigant, the following things should be taken into consideration:
- Dress conservatively.
- Speak politely, clearly and loud enough to be heard by all participants.
- Address the Judge as “Your Honor” at all times.
- Never interrupt anyone. You may object to a line of questioning but don’t interrupt an attorney or the judge during discussions. You will get the chance to give your opinion after the discussion is finished.
- When address or referring to someone in the court refer to him/her as “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Ms.”
- Feel free to bring someone to court for support. Keep it to a minimum though, there is no reason to show up for court with your entire family and all your friends.
- Take your lead from the judge. In most cases the judge will go out of his/her way to help a Pro Se litigant with courtroom procedure. If, you are on your best behavior.
- Check your emotions at the door. Stick to the legalities and proving your case with the proper documentation. A judge isn’t going to make a ruling based on how many tears you shed!