For the past five weeks I’ve been talking about pro se divorce — how you can represent yourself in a divorce action. Here are some frequently asked questions:
1. Can I handle a pro se divorce?
People who are in the best situation to proceed successfully are those:
• Who know where their spouse is;
• Whose children are not involved;
• Who have divided whatever property or money they have to mutual satisfaction;
• Who do not want any monetary settlement from each other; and,
• Who have settled most of the otherwise disruptive emotional issues between them so they can cooperate.
2. Is it possible to go pro se if I have children?
It is possible to handle issues such as child custody, support, and visitation as a pro se litigant. But anyone with children should at least consult with an attorney before coming to a final agreement on these issues. Having an attorney look over your agreement will protect you now and down the road.
3. What if my spouse moved out of state?
If you have your spouse’s address, it is possible to have the sheriff where he lives serve him by certified mail. Your local court clerk will have information regarding serving a spouse who lives in another state.
4. What if I do not know where my spouse is?
If you do not know where your spouse is, you cannot serve him with papers. Instead you will notify your spouse by publication. You must follow specific rules about when and where to publish a legal notice in the paper and you must get documents to prove that you have taken these steps. You will also have to pay for printing the notice in the paper.
5. Why consider a pro se divorce?
The most important advantage is that it is less expensive. If you do a divorce pro se, you will end up paying only the court costs and the sheriff’s fees, which come to about $200 to $250 in most states. Attorney’s fees, needless to say, are a great deal more. Many of them charge that much per hour.
6. Is a pro se divorce legally binding?
Yes. The process is the same. The only difference is that you are responsible for filing forms, communicating with the court, finding the sheriff, etc.
7. Where do I go for help with doing a pro se divorce?
Some states have online guides and resources for anyone wanting to go pro se. Your state may even offer classes in doing a pro se divorce. To find out what resources your state offers contact your court clerk or your local Legal Aid office. You may also find the following sources useful:
Rules of Civil Procedure by State
• The key to pro se is knowledge. Use both print and online resources to prepare a strong case.
• Use the help available to you through your Court Clerk’s office. Don’t shy away from developing a strong relationship with the clerk who is handling your divorce file. His or her knowledge is invaluable, and the clerk’s goodwill can be a lifesaver.
• It is important to know how a court functions, the rules to be followed and proper etiquette in a courthouse. Study your state’s rules of civil procedure and sit in on a local family court case to get an idea of how cases are handled once they go to court.
• Be upfront and honest with all the facts; remember that lies will always be exposed in the end.
• To be a successful pro se litigant you need to keep your wits about you, not be frightened by legal terms or lawyers, seem calm and confident when appearing in court, make sure that your case follows the law to a “t,” and remain unintimidated by your spouse or his attorney.
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