A person who files their own petition for divorce and goes through the divorce process without an attorney is called a "Pro Se litigant." The most common reasons a person chooses to get a divorce without an attorney 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.
This article will discuss the general steps you will need to take.
How to Begin The Divorce Process Without a Divorce Attorney
The divorce process begins when you file your original petition for divorce with your local court clerk. In some states the original petition for divorce is refered to as a "Letter of Complaint." When you file a petition for divorce what you are doing is asking the family court to grant you a divorce...to become involved in your life and decide who gets what once the marriage is over.
Wondering where to begin, how to actually construct an original petition for divorce? This can be complicated! In this wonderful age of technology most states have resources for people who are attempting to get a divorce without an attorney. To find out if your state or local jurisdiction has any resources you can use Google, "pro se divorce xxxx state/ county."
If there are no online resources provided for your particular area you will need dig a little deeper. Google cames in handy for this also. Search for "sample petition for divorce" and your state and counties name. Finding a sample gives you a guideline to follow when putting together your petition.
Also visit your local court clerk to find out if your state offers a petition in the form of a "form" that is filled out and filed. You will find that the court clerk won't give legal advice but can point you in the right direction with most of your questions.
The original petition or letter of complaint that you construct will identify the parties to the divorce and any children born during the marriage. The party filing for divorce will have to state 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. Learning your state’s divorce laws will help familiarize you with the grounds allowed in your state. The person filing for the divorce will be named the “petitioner” by the courts while the other party to the divorce is referred to as the “respondent” or, in some states, the “defendant.”
Putting Together Your Original Petition For Divorce
The petition you file with the court needs to contain a statement regarding the cause of the divorce and any relief you are seeking. It is important to keep emotions out of this statement. A family court judge isnt going to care if he/she is saying bad things about you or if he/she makes you cry on a daily basis. A judge wants to know the "when, why and where" of the situation. So, keep you statement simple and to the point.
If you are filing on certain grounds, state those grounds without going into details. You will be able to give details and evidence regarding the details at a later date. If there is anything in the petition that you do not understand, a call to your court clerk will clear up any confusion. You will find out through the divorce process that the court clerk will become an invaluable source of information. They can not give legal advice but do give advice on filling out and filing legal documents. Specific information needed will vary from state to state the petition will normally request the following information:
- Identification of the spouses by name and address.
- Date and place of marriage.
- Identification of children of the marriage.
- Acknowledgement that the petitioner and his/her spouse have lived in the state or county for a certain amount of time before filing the petition.
- Grounds for divorce.
- Declaration or request as to how the petitioner would like to settle finances, property division, child custody, visitation, and other issues related to divorce.
You Must Now "Notify" Your Spouse
Once you've filed your petition for divorce you must notify your spouse in writing within 30 to 40 days. Be sure you ask your family court clerk what the time limit is for your jurisdiction. When notifying your spouse you will send or have someone deliver a copy of the divorce petition you filed. Normally you will use a process server or a sheriff's deputy. Your court clerk will be able to tell you how notification is handled in your jurisdiction.
If your spouse has a divorce attorney and you know the attorney's name and address you can notify him/her via the attorney. When doing this make sure you send notification via certified mail so you will have proof to show the court that the attorney was notified, the notification was received and the date it was received.
It is your responsibility to make sure the respondent is properly served so you will want to stay in contact with the court clerk to make sure the sheriff's deputy or process server was able to locate your spouse. If you are unable to find your spouse you have the option of “notifying through publication.” This is only allowed with the court's permission and you will have to file specific forms requesting permission via the courts if this process of notification is necessary. Always keep copies of any documents pertaining to your case for your own records. Also, always send a copy of any communication with the respondent to the court clerk and request it be put in your divorce file.
What to Expect After Notifying Your Spouse
After your spouse has been notified of the filing of an original petition for divorce, he/she will have 30 to 40 days in most jurisdictions to respond. Your spouse has the option of responding as a Pro Se litigant or hiring a divorce attorney. When your spouse responds they will do so in writing and will have the opportunity to agree or disagree with any assertions you make in the original petition for divorce.
Your spouse is required to send a copy of their response to the local family court clerk and a copy to you, the petitioner. Once the divorce petition is filed by you, the respondent has been notified and the responded has replied the next step is to set up a court date with the local family court.
At the time of filing the original petition for divorce you need to discuss with the court clerk what happens once your spouse responds. In some jurisdictions a court date is set by the court clerk without further input from you. In other jurisdictions you will have to pertition the court for a court day. Be sure you are fully aware of any steps you need to take in order to get a court date on the court docket.