To begin the divorce process as a Pro Se litigant you will file an original petition for divorce with the local court clerk. The original petition for divorce is a document requesting that the court grant a divorce.
Filling out the petition for divorce:
If you are asking for the divorce (or “filing” for it) you are known as the “petitioner,” and your husband is known as the “respondent,” or “defendant.” When you petition the court for a divorce, you state the cause of your divorce. If you are filing for specific grounds make sure you don’t go into details.
Example: If your spouse has cheated on you, you should say, “Petitioner seeks divorce on the grounds of adultery” rather than, “Petitioner seeks divorce because my husband has been sleeping with another woman for six months.”
The court isn’t interested in whether or not you hate your husband, feel he should be stricken from the face of the earth, or any other emotions you may have. Keep your feelings to yourself.
I promise you, the judge who has to read your petition will appreciate it.
Information needed in the petition will vary, but most states require:
• Identification of the spouses by name and legal address.
• Date and place of marriage.
• Identification of children from the marriage, their names and ages.
• Proof that the petitioner and her husband have lived in the state or county for a certain length of time and have the right to file for divorce.
• A statement on how the petitioner would like to settle finances, property division, child custody, child support, visitation, and other issues related to divorce.
Filing the petition for divorce:
The petition for divorce, along with two copies and the filing fee (the Clerk of Court will tell you want it is), are hand delivered or sent by certified mail to the local court clerk.
If you can’t afford to pay the filing fees (in the district of Los Angeles it is $299.50; a fee of around $250 is typical), request an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Court Costs when you file your original petition. The judge will review the affidavit and decide whether to waive the filing fees.
Remember to ask for a copy of the affidavit of Inability to Pay Court Costs for your own files.
The clerk will date stamp, file the original petition, and give it a case number. The other copies will be date stamped also, with one copy returned to you and the other copy is for the Respondent (your husband).
Notifying The Respondent:
State laws vary but normally you have between 20 and 40 days to notify the respondent. After you have filed the original petition for divorce, you serve the respondent with a copy of the petition. You can obtain information from the Clerk of Court about the district’s rules about notification.
Some courts will have the local sheriff notify the respondent; some may require you to do this on you own. (Which doesn’t mean you yourself have to do it; you can hire someone to serve the petition.) And be very aware of possible violence, if the Respondent is prone to violence. Have the papers served in a public place… have someone with you… make sure you are safe in your home … file a restraining order if necessary.
Be sure to inquire at the time of filing how the respondent will be notified and if you are responsible in anyway for notification of the respondent.
Once the respondent is notified he will file an answer to your petition for divorce with the court clerk. Again, the time he has to do this varies from state to state.
After he responds, one of two things will happen:
• The court, on its own motion, will set a date for a hearing so that temporary orders may be handed down.
• Or you will need to file a motion asking the court for a hearing date so that temporary orders can be handed down.
When filing your original petition for divorce ask your court clerk if the court automatically sets a date for the hearing, or if you need to take any steps to make sure this is done.
In Part 4 of Pro Se divorce, I will discuss How To Negotiate a Divorce Settlement and How to Arrange for Mediation.