If you are facing a dissolution of marriage, you have much to consider, including the cost. Divorce is expensive, and you can keep it low by filing a pro se divorce. Pro se divorce is when you self-represent yourself, navigate court procedures, file the relevant paperwork, and enter into an agreement with your partner without legal help.
However, from a legal perspective, unless you are well-versed in California family laws and procedural rules, you should retain a skilled lawyer to coach and guide you through this process. The legal team at Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer can save you a lot of frustration and time and advise you on your rights, especially when agreeing with your spouse.
Defining Pro Se Divorce in Los Angeles
Also known as pro per divorce, pro se divorce is a dissolution of marriage where at least one partner chooses to self-represent themselves in a family court. Most people who choose pre per divorce do so to cut costs. Typically, divorce is expensive, particularly when you engage a family lawyer.
A pro se litigant is responsible for filing the relevant paperwork properly. Otherwise, the court could dismiss your case, require you to serve your spouse again, or redo the paperwork.
Luckily, California courts offer divorce instructions and forms on their official websites, making it easier for self-representing people to learn and comply with the laws and court procedures.
While sometimes judges are lenient on self-representing individuals, do not expect unique treatment if you choose pro se divorce. The court could have self-help forms or departments that can assist you in navigating the California court system. However, divorce rules and forms are identical, whether represented or pro se parties.
When Pro Per Divorce is an Ideal Option
You can consider a pro per divorce if your dissolution of marriage does not have many disputes to be resolved and you are willing to collaborate as a couple.
Summary or Simplified Divorce
One scenario that makes pro per divorce the ideal option is when:
- Neither partner objects to the dissolution of the marriage,
- The couple has no debts or marital assets to divide,
- Neither partner is seeking spousal support (alimony) from the other, or
- The couple does not have dependent children.
Most dissolutions of marriage that satisfy these criteria are short-term marriages.
Since there is nothing to fight for or about, the divorce instructions and forms from the court should be adequate to see you through the process.
Your pro se divorce will succeed if you and your partner agree on all issues before bringing your divorce case. These issues could be:
- Child support
- Child custody
- Property division
Partners can file an “uncontested” divorce when they agree on their divorce terms. Although you must meet specific requirements, an uncontested divorce is easier than a contested one since you can end your marriage without constant negotiations, court hearings, and legal posturing. Therefore, it is less complicated, faster, and involves fewer legal costs. Additionally, an uncontested divorce preserves a relationship between the partners, which is particularly vital if they have children.
Settling divorce issues without legal assistance involves work; you and your partners must be ready to compromise and communicate. If you want to proceed with an uncontested divorce but have challenges communicating with your spouse, you can use alternative dispute resolution methods like collaborative divorce or mediation. If your ADR is effective, you can draft an agreement to submit to the courtroom, and the court will sign it into your divorce order.
Situations When Pro Per Divorce Might Not Be the Best Option
Not every divorce case is ideal for self-representation. These situations include the following:
You and Your Partner Cannot Agree on Key Issues
If there is a contested issue, the case should be handled by legal experts. For instance, if you want child custody and cannot make sense of the laws of proof, the judge will not permit you to submit the relevant evidence showing why it is not in your children’s best interest for your partner to have child custody.
Therefore, you must seek legal guidance if what you are fighting for is too crucial to lose.
The Situation Could Change
While you cannot foretell the future, engaging an attorney might help if you believe something serious might arise, like your partner stopping to pay child support. When a surprise arises in the dissolution of a marriage, you should act quickly. A seasoned lawyer knows how to deal with the matter.
You can consult an attorney once you can no longer self-represent.
Your soon-to-be ex Has Legal Representation
You need to know procedures and laws to achieve your outcomes, mainly if you are against an experienced family law attorney. Hiring a lawyer can help level the playing field.
You Do Not Have Additional Time
You should be well-acquainted with California's divorce procedural rules and laws to navigate a divorce case. While judges strive for fair outcomes in divorce cases, they should comply with specific court rules. Therefore, if you miss the deadline, it could adversely affect some aspects of the case.
If a petitioner needs more time to learn divorce laws, fill out the relevant paperwork, and rectify all mistakes, it is worth hiring an attorney.
You Fear or Are Experiencing Domestic Violence (DV)
You must seek legal assistance if you fear for your safety or your children's. Your experienced lawyer should know the most effective methods to secure your safety so that you can pay attention to your dissolution of marriage. It includes obtaining a restraining order.
How to File for Your Pro Se Divorce
Filing for divorce involves a lot of legal steps and paperwork. However, it can be easy if you and your partner can collaborate.
Here is what you should know about California’s residency requirements before bringing your pro se divorce:
To obtain a divorce in California, you should satisfy two residency requirements as of when you brought your initial divorce papers. Either you or your partner should have resided:
- in California for six (6) months and
- three (3) months in the county when you brought your divorce paperwork.
Additionally, if you have minor children, there are more requirements if the dissolution of a marriage involves issues like child custody, a visitation schedule, or a parenting schedule. The children should have resided with their parents in California for at least six months before filing for divorce or since birth if the minor is younger than six months.
A Step-by-Step Guide for Filing Your Divorce
To initiate your filing process, you should complete the relevant paperwork. You can find and download your forms from the California Courts website. The official website has instructions for all forms and details on the dissolution of the marriage process.
Every California court uses the same divorce forms. As a petitioner, you should complete the following forms:
- FL-110 (The Summons)
- Family Law Form FL-100 (Petition - Marriage)
- If you require more space to list your marital debts and property, use FL-160 (Property Declaration).
If you are eligible for a simplified divorce, you can bring your joint petition, disclosures, and settlement agreement as a couple.
Self-representing petitioners with concerns or questions about the appropriate forms to file should consider talking to a court clerk or visiting a legal self-help center.
1. Complete Your Divorce Paperwork
Most divorce forms on the state judiciary website are fillable; you can fill them out on any device before printing them.
Ensure you are accurate and thorough when filling out your forms. An error could result in the judge rejecting the paperwork or raising other issues later. Also, remember to confirm which forms should be notarized. In this case, only sign forms if you have a notary.
As a petitioner, you can request the self-help center review your paperwork and ensure you have completed the forms properly.
Make two (2) copies of your completed form. Keep one for yourself and give your partner the other.
2. Bringing the Divorce Paperwork to Court
Next, visit your nearby courthouse and file your paperwork.
You should pay filing fees. Currently, the divorce filing fee is $345. If you cannot raise the amount, you can request a waiver by bringing Form FW-001 (Request to Waive Court Fees). The judge will require you to offer additional financial details to qualify for the waiver.
3. Serve Your Partners with Your Divorce Paperwork
Unless you have agreed on a simplified divorce as a couple, you should deliver your divorce paperwork through a service of process. The service of the process ensures all parties are notified of what is happening and have a chance to attend court hearings.
You, the petitioner, should arrange how a skilled process server, county sheriff, or neutral adult will deliver the documents. If you believe your partner will collaborate, mail them your petition and offer an FL-117 (Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt). Your partner should file FL-117 before returning it to you, the petitioner, for bringing it to court.
Ensure you serve your spouse copies of all the paperwork you brought to court. Once you complete the service, bring your Proof of Service of Summons to the court.
4. Bring the Divorce Response Papers
Your spouse, in this case, the respondent, should bring their response and the relevant paperwork to the court within thirty days. They should complete the forms below:
- FL-120 (Response - Marriage)
- Either FL-335 (Proof of Service by Mail) or FL-330 (Proof of Personal Service), depending mainly on how they delivered their response to you
Your spouse should also pay their filing fee, serve you with their response form, and bring proof of service to the court.
If the couple has notarized and signed their settlement agreement, they can skip bringing the response and obtain a divorce with the written agreement.
5. Financial Disclosures
The state requires divorcing partners to exchange their financial information. Within sixty days after filing the response or petition, you should serve your partner with the forms below:
- FL -160 (Property Declaration) or FL-142 (Schedule of Assets and Debts)
- FL-155 (Simplified Financial Statement) or FL-150 (the Income and Expense Declaration)
- FL-140 (Declaration of Disclosure)
Ensure you answer the forms honestly and clearly. You can also attach additional documents like tax returns and pay stubs.
Once you have served your spouse the form, bring FL-141 to the court.
6. Reaching an Agreement
If the respondent has avoided default judgment, you will move to resolve issues like child support, child custody, how community assets should be distributed, and spousal support.
You can agree through mediation, on your own, or using an online divorce platform.
7. Acquiring Your Final Judgment
After reaching an agreement, the judge will review your divorce forms to ensure they are properly filed. If you and your spouse negotiate your divorce settlement, the judge will review your plan to ensure it is not coerced.
Finally, you will receive a final divorce judgment (divorce decree).
Tips on How to Go About Pro Se Divorce
While filing for divorce without legal representation is possible, you should research. First, learn whether you are an ideal candidate to self-represent, and then learn the following tips for making your pro se divorce process smooth.
Consider Engaging in Mediation to Cut Costs
If you can resolve issues in your dissolution of marriage, you will save a lot of money by bringing an uncontested divorce.
An experienced mediator can aid you in working out your differences and avoiding fighting in court. Moreover, the mediator can recommend solutions.
All divorce cases, whether uncontested or contested, involve court hearings and extensive paperwork. Depending on the court’s practices, you will receive notices in hard copy and electronically.
Therefore, you should begin a filing system to keep records of everything.
You can also create a calendar that reminds you of court dates and filing deadlines.
Begin With the County Clerk
While court practices vary, many county clerk’s offices will offer you the information you need when bringing your dissolution of marriage. Generally, these details are available on the county clerk’s official website, so visit the site first.
Although the clerk can offer general details, they will not provide legal advice. Therefore, do not be surprised when a clerk guides you to your nearby law library or self-help desk.
On the state judiciary’s website, you can find the following:
- informational packets
- resources like frequently asked questions, and
- fillable forms
The information could assist you in knowing more about the dissolution of marriage in California.
Remember to Stay Physically and Mentally Healthy
Self-representation can be overwhelming. Prioritize your sleep, exercise, and talk to a trusted person if you require someone to vent to. Take some time off and relax.
If you have infant children, work with a babysitter to cover for you when attending court. Request your loved ones to evaluate documents to ensure they are sensible before submitting them to the court. Your relatives can offer moral support, and they might even advise you.
Seek Legal Assistance on an As-Needed Basis
Consulting an attorney to represent you fully can be costly. Fortunately, numerous legal professionals can offer hourly help on an as-needed basis. All you probably require is assistance analyzing your settlement agreement to ensure you did not overlook anything or fill out a financial disclosure.
You can retain a lawyer once you learn that pro se divorce is not working. Ask whether your spouse can pay the attorney’s fee if you consult an attorney.
Get Assistance with Your Paperwork
Self-representation does not always mean doing everything on your own. You can get help filling out the paperwork from:
- Court help desks — Some courts have self-help centers where you can visit for help with bringing your divorce forms.
- Legal document preparers — While a legal document preparer cannot offer personalized legal advice, they can prepare your form using the details you provide. Also, the paralegal can bring the paperwork to the court for you.
- Online divorce services — Most online divorce services will charge a fee to guide you through your divorce steps. For additional fees, the service provider might bring your paperwork or offer instructions on bringing it with legal help.
Evaluating Your Financial Situation
Begin to prepare to be financially independent before your dissolution of marriage is over. Key steps to take include the following:
- Run your credit report.
- Create your budget and know how you will handle unexpected or significant expenses that might arise.
- Cancel every jointly held credit card.
Find Competent Legal Representation Near Me
So, is pro se divorce your ideal option?
Ultimately, this is a question you need to answer for yourself. Representing yourself in court is a risk-reward situation. You should weigh the pros and cons and assess your situation to determine what works for you.
Engaging a skilled family law attorney would be in your best interests. The Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer understands that divorce can be complicated. We can offer divorce and ADR services like mediation that allow you to work as a team, promote a “win-win” situation, and get through your pro se divorce process faster and more amicably. We can also guide you on the right steps to take, prepare, and review your paperwork. Please contact us at 310-695-5212 to learn how we can help you.