How you represent yourself in a dissolution depends in part on your marital circumstances. If you and your spouse agree on the divorce, you can file an uncontested divorce together. In some cases, you may not even need to go to court. If you and your spouse disagree on the divorce, you will likely file for a contested divorce. When your divorce involves children, child custody and child support issues may complicate your case.
In order to represent yourself in a divorce, you may try to familiarize yourself with basic legal terminology, court documents, legal procedures and the court clerk's office. For example, it is important to understand who is the petitioner and who is the respondent. The petitioner files the petition for divorce and the respondent responds to it. The petition for dissolution is also referred to as a divorce complaint.
The type and names of legal forms used in a divorce case vary from state to state. For example, Connecticut reminds filers to include the full case name and docket number on each form. The court clerk cannot help you fill out any legal forms, but can confirm the cost of filing fees.
Petition for Dissolution
The divorce proceedings begin when you file a petition for dissolution. You pay a filing fee when you file your petition. If you cannot afford the filing fees, you can generally request an application for a fee waiver at the court clerk's office. Requirements for fee waivers vary by state.
Service of Process
After you file your petition with the court, you are required to serve a copy of the legal documents on your spouse. Service of process requires the documents to be served by someone 18 years or older who is not a party to the case. Some states require a state marshal or professional service processor to serve the documents. The court also requires proof of service.
Response to Divorce Papers
Your spouse will likely complete the form as the respondent. If your spouse agrees to the divorce, the matter moves forward as an uncontested divorce. Depending on state law, your spouse may be able to sign a waiver of service, to confirm that he has received the documents. By signing a waiver of appearance, he waives his court appearance to contest the divorce.
Marriage Settlement Agreement
In a pro se divorce, you handle all aspects of the case including negotiations and settlements over marital assets. You can work out the details of a dissolution agreement with your spouse and present it to the court for approval. A marital settlement agreement resolves issues such as property distribution, debt assignment, spousal support, child support, child custody and visitation schedules. When a divorce case involves children, a judge may mandate court-ordered mediation to help you resolve custody matters.
Automatic Court Orders
As soon as you file your petition for divorce or response, you may be subject to automatic court orders. Automatic orders vary based on state laws. For example, if you file for divorce in Connecticut, automatic orders restrict you from incurring excessive debt, selling property without your spouse's consent and moving the children out of state.