The following is a 6-part series explaining the ins and outs of Pro Se divorce. Pro Se is Latin for "for himself" or "on one's own behalf." A person who represents him- or herself in court, without the help of a lawyer, is said to appear pro se.
The decision to get divorced can be difficult. You will be concerned about starting over, your children and of course, money. Money or lack thereof is one of the main reasons a person may choose to go Pro Se and represent herself during the legal process of divorce.
If you can’t afford an attorney, this articles, and the two that will follow, are for you. This is a comprehensive, step-by-step guide for anyone who needs or wants to represent herself and become a Pro Se litigant in divorce court.
Before jumping into the how-to’s of the Pro Se process it’s important to talk about the level of commitment it takes to represent yourself. Not everyone is equipped to go Pro Se. You need to be resilient and tenacious.
You will also have to:
• Deal with unexpected injustices and indignities. You will be exposed to nonsense that you would never expect in a court of law. You will meet people who will stare you in the face and lie under oath. You must be able to stare back at the nonsense and injustice and keep your cool while defending yourself and your position. Keep your outrage and anger to yourself and always respond to the indignities in a dignified manner.
• Write and speak accurately and precisely. When dealing with court documents and speaking in a courtroom setting it doesn’t matter what you intended to say. What matters is that you write and say what you mean…specifically. You want to write and speak literally and leave emotions out of the equation.
• Separate your notion of common sense, fairness and morality from The Law. When writing law, common sense, fairness and morality come into play. But in the implementation of the law, those virtues are not always present. You have to be able to accept that you may not get what you consider fair or moral.
• View the opposing attorney and the judge has human beings. You owe them respect but they are also fallible human beings. They make mistakes and if you aren’t careful their mistakes will cost you. So, you have to stay two steps ahead of the opposing attorney and the judge. You have to guard your legal rights and doing that means making sure those two fallible human beings aren’t making any mistakes that step on your rights.
• Stay focused and on point. You are going to Family Court but you may feel like you ended up in Kangaroo Court. Court proceedings can feel like an obstacle course designed to confuse and confound you. But if you to lose your focus, you could very well lose your case. Don’t react to anything negative or defensive the opposing counsel argues. Keep your mind on the business at hand.
• Be meticulous and organized. An attorney has a paralegal and a secretary to keep files in order. You, on the other hand will do all of the organizing and filing alone. You will also have to communicate with court personnel, fill out and send legal documents, and receive legal documents from both the court and the opposing attorney. It is imperative that you keep track of every one you speak with, the date and time you spoke with them, and the issue discussed. You must have a filing system for all documents you have filled out, sent and received. The Pro Se litigant is a pseudo attorney, paralegal, and secretary rolled into one.
• Be persistent. You have to get up when knocked down, and to carry on when you feel you can’t deal with it any longer. At times, doing business with Family Court will feel as if you are banging your head against a brick wall. You will have to do research, prepare legal documents, file motions and petitions and answer motions and petitions. You will wait for a court date, and then you will wait some more when the other side requests a continuance.
About midway through the process, you will feel like Sisyphus pushing that darn rock up a hill, only to see it roll down again. This is where your tenacity and persistence come into play. Knowing you are right and believing in what you are doing is the fuel that will keep you pushing that rock up hill.
This is not to be considered legal advice, but only a checklist of things you might have to do. When in doubt you should always consult a lawyer, or a law book.