May 4th 2017 • 0 CommentsBack To Blog
This is the first part in a multi-part series and is intended to lay out the initial considerations if you are thinking of filing a pro se divorce. I'll start with the familiar caveat that I am not a licensed attorney, and while I am providing a recount of my experiences and what I have learned you should always consult an attorney who practices family law in your jurisdiction if you truly need legal advice.
As my readers know, I represented myself as a pro se litigant through my divorce, as of course did my ex. Even in no-fault cases someone has to bring the formal complaint or pleading, and usually that person bears a bulk of the responsibility in executing the process. Since that person was me, I can assure you that many people can do this if they are willing to perform the research and do so under the right conditions.
This was nearly 7 years ago and it is getting more common. Many courts throughout the US are starting to offer legal guides to help assist pro se litigants through the process of divorce. I know in my state that several courts have become pro se friendly, and there are also legal communities who have contributed by developing guides. Note, this does not preclude you from consulting an attorney for advice or assistance in drafting any or all of your required pleadings or agreements and in many cases I would suggest you do. Also note that just because courts may be more lenient in a pro se divorce I strongly suggest you understand the process in a fair amount of detail. If not, you might frustrate a judge and end up back at square one. There are also potential subtleties crafting your decree and the incorporation/merger of other agreements so tread carefully. Even if you decide that pro se is not for you, performing this research will set you up with the best chance for success. It will save you money in attorney fees and allow you to make well informed decisions.
Here are the important considerations to determine if pro se divorce is right for your case:
I have advocated previously that the Marital Separation Agreement (MSA), and/or parenting plan are key (they may be the same document or separate depending on your state). For the best outcome, you should reach an agreement on them before you physically separate. This will help keep lines of communication open and allow for leverage during the process. Once one person moves out, this gets harder, and often the person who leaves the residence loses the most leverage. I understand this may not always be possible and if it is not, then you will just have to work with your circumstances. Once you have a draft or outline then you should consult with your attorneys for review. This is a good time to bring up the discussion that you are considering filing pro se. Most attorneys will still provide you advice.
If you cannot reach agreement on your property division and parenting plan, this might lead you to believe a pro se divorce is now out of the question. That may or may not be the case. I still advocate you attempt some form of mediation. If this can result in executed agreements without too much ill will then you still have a chance to file pro se.
Once you have hammered out these critical agreements you will need to determine the process for your state or local court. Check to see if they have published guides, use web searches or even check local legal support groups if you have not already received the information you need from your attorney. You can probably download "fill-in" forms for your state through paid legal sites, but beware these might not give you the required detailed process steps.
If you think pro se divorce is right for you, please check back next week for my breakdown of the detailed steps in Virginia. While this will be specific to my state, many of these steps will still apply to a broader population. All 50 states recognize some form of no fault divorce, and while your state may be different I assure you that in many states you can accomplish a pro se divorce.
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