Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Navigating The Divorce Waters Without A Lawyer (Pro se)

Woman going about a do it yourself divorce in pro per reading divorce papers.

Divorce. There, we said it. It’s the seven-letter word that’s as hard to swallow as Aunt Edna’s dry Thanksgiving turkey. But let’s face it, sometimes relationships end up more like a squabble over the last slice of pizza than a romantic dinner for two. And when that happens, you might find yourself contemplating the ‘D’ word.

Now, before you start picturing courtroom dramas and lawyers with more sass than a daytime TV judge, let me stop you right there. This isn’t Law & Order: Divorce Edition. This is real life, and let’s be honest, most of us don’t have a hotshot lawyer on speed dial.

But fear not, dear reader. Just because you’re navigating the choppy waters of divorce alone doesn’t mean you’re destined to sink. With the right mindset and preparation, you’ll be able to navigate this challenging time with knowledge, grace and resilience.

Understanding Pro-Per Divorce

Spouse in a pro se divorce doing research on a laptop and preparing paperwork.

First, let’s clarify what it means to proceed “pro se” or “pro per” (they both mean the same thing). Both of these terms are Latin and generally mean “on one’s own behalf.” If you are a pro se (or pro per) litigant in the context of divorce, it means you are handling your divorce proceedings without hiring an attorney to represent you.

While this approach requires doing your homework and understanding the legal processes in your jurisdiction, it also could potentially save you money and foster a more direct line of communication between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. However, there are also some cons.

The Benefits of a Pro Se Approach

  • Saving Money: One of the most significant benefits of a DIY divorce is the potential savings on legal fees. Attorney fees can be expensive, as divorce lawyers can charge anywhere between $250 and $1,500 per hour depending on where you live and the attorney’s skill and experience.

  • Empowerment: Taking charge of your own divorce proceedings can be empowering. It encourages you to learn, understand, and navigate the legal system, giving you a sense of control during a time that often feels chaotic.

  • Fostering Communication: When you and your spouse handle the divorce directly, it can lead to better communication. This is particularly beneficial if children are involved, as it sets a foundation for positive co-parenting.

The Cons of A Pro Se Divorce

Frustrated spouse reading divorce papers and preparing paperwork without the help of a divorce attorney.
  • Losing Money: If there are any issues related to spousal support, child support payments, prenuptial agreement, or marital property, going without the full representation of a divorce lawyer could end up costing you thousands of dollars in the long run. This is because oftentimes divorce attorneys are able to get better outcomes for their clients. This is especially true if your spouse has hired an attorney.

  • Losing Time: When you hire a lawyer, the attorney handles most of the things related to the divorce such as handling the court costs and filing fees, preparing and filing divorce paperwork, guidance with decisions, and communications with your spouse. Handling your divorce pro se means having to dedicate a lot of time researching what you need to do and then handling those things on your own.

  • Worse Outcomes: No matter how much research or studying you do, unless you go to law school and practice law for a while, you just won’t have enough knowledge on how to create the best outcome for your divorce.

    Attorneys are expensive for a reason, they have extensive training and experience which they apply to get the best outcome possible for their clients. They know how to create leverage using the facts of your case and the law in order to get the best possible results. In some cases that means maximizing how much money you get for spousal maintenance, child support, or as a result of dividing property, and in other cases that might mean obtaining child custody for you.

For obvious reasons, a pro se divorce works best when the divorce is uncontested. An uncontested divorce is one where the spouses agree on all major things related to the dissolution of the marriage.

Spouses in an uncontested divorce working together on their divorce.

For things you should consider when deciding whether you need an attorney for your divorce, read this article or watch our video, “Do I Need a Lawyer for My Divorce?” here.

If you decide to proceed without a divorce attorney, the following are some helpful tips.

Tips for Handling the Divorce Process Without Legal Representation

Tip 1: Think About the Kids

Three children.

If you have kids, they’re probably confused about the situation. It’s important to keep their best interests at heart. This means avoiding using them as pawns or messengers and maintaining a united front, even if behind the scenes you’re more divided than a pizza at a party. And, if you are handling your divorce without legal representation, this especially true as a lot of your time and energy will be spent on researching and preparing paperwork–which can be confusing and frustrating.

Tip 2: Get Free Legal Advice Using Judigo Legal’s Online Chat Platform

Man getting free legal advice online from attorneys on his mobile device using Judigo Legal's free online chat platform.

Need some advice or some direction on where to start or what to do next? Chat online with knowledgeable divorce lawyers for free.

Attorneys on Judigo Legal can answer questions including about filing paperwork, what to expect, and what your rights are. In short, they can give you general direction on what you need to do and how to do it.

Getting help on Judigo Legal is easy, all you have to do is sign up and ask your question. An attorney will then immediately initiate a free online chat to answer you. Online chats on Judigo Legal are always free and available 24/7.

Tip 3: (Try To) Keep It Civil

Now, remember when your mom told you to play nice? Well, she was onto something. In the heat of a divorce, it’s easy to let emotions run wilder than a bull in a china shop. But guess what? Being civil, cooperative, and respectful towards your soon-to-be-ex can actually speed up the process and reduce costs. Who knew “please” and “thank you” could save you money?

Tip 4: Do Your Homework

First things first – research. The same strategy you used to ace your high school exams is going to come in handy. Except this time, instead of biology or algebra, you’re studying your state’s divorce laws. Remember, knowledge is power – and in this case, it could also save you a ton of money. For free access to law databases and other research material, consider visiting your nearest law library—most counties in California have one. For information on services offered by law libraries and other free self-help resources, visit https://www.courts.ca.gov/1091.htm?rdeLocaleAttr=en. Also, Most courts’ websites provide information on the divorce process and the different divorce papers you will need to fill out and file.

Tip 5: Get Your Ducks In A Row

Gather all relevant documentation. This includes financial records, property deeds, prenuptial agreements (if any), and anything else that might be important. If for example, you are trying to get spousal support, records relating to your husband’s income and assets would be helpful. Think of it as spring cleaning, except you’re sifting through your life instead of your closet.

Person organizing her pro se divorce papers.

Tip 6: Give Mediation a Whirl

Ever thought of swapping stuffy courtroom drama for a friendly round-table chat? Mediation might just be your ticket! It’s like having a cup of coffee with your issues, but instead of brewing discontent, you’re stirring up agreeable solutions. Plus, it’s usually kinder to your wallet than courtroom brawls. In a mediation, spouses hire a third-party, usually a lawyer or retired judge. The mediator is neutral, meaning they’re not supposed to take sides, and their one and only mission is to get both spouses to come to an agreement.

Tip 7: Figure Out Where You Need to File

Before you can say “I don’t” in any U.S state, there’s a little thing called residency requirements that you need to tick off your checklist. This is not like ordering a pizza where you call and voila, it’s at your doorstep! You and your estranged spouse need to have been residents of the state for a certain period, usually around six months, before the court will even consider your request for divorce.

And just when you thought it was as simple as picking a state, there’s another twist! You also need to file for divorce in the county or parish where you and/or your spouse have been nesting. It’s like finding the right pair of shoes; not only do they have to be your size, but they also have to match your outfit. So, you’ll need to figure out which court suits your case.

So, before you dive into the deep end of the divorce pool, do a little bit of detective work. Research your state and county’s specific rules so you don’t end up belly flopping. After all, you don’t want to be the one who shows up to a black-tie event in flip flops, do you?

Tip 8: File & Serve

Once you’ve filled out your forms, you’ll need to file them with the correct court and have them served on your spouse. Be mindful that you probably wont be able to serve the papers yourself and that each state has its own requirements. For example, some states might require that the divorce papers be served by a sheriff, while others might only allow service by way of a registered process server.

Tip 9: Take Care of Yourself

Happy woman taking care of herself during her divorce by exercising and listening to music.

Remember to take care of yourself. Going through a divorce is like running a marathon on a treadmill – exhausting and seemingly never-ending. So, don’t forget to eat (chocolate counts), sleep (dreaming about a hassle-free life counts), and exercise (dancing to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ counts).

Also, don’t forget to set clear boundaries with your ex-partner to protect your emotional well-being. This might involve limiting communication to necessary matters and avoiding topics that trigger conflict.

Finally, many people who have gone through a divorce found it helpful to take a break from social media. Try to limit your exposure to negative influences that may exacerbate feelings of loneliness or inadequacy. Surround yourself with positivity and uplifting content instead.

A Do-It-Yourself Divorce Is Not a One-Size-Fits-All

Spouse struggling with handling her DIY divorce.

While you might fancy yourself a DIY enthusiast, divorce isn’t quite like assembling that IKEA flat-pack (and we all know how that usually turns out!). Sure, you could try to navigate those choppy legal waters alone, but trust us, it’s no cakewalk. One wrong form, one missed requirement, and boom! Your divorce is delayed or worse.

And let’s not even get started on the rules of property and custody division. It’s like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. Before you know it, you could be nodding yes to a deal that’s as appealing as last week’s leftovers.

That’s where our non-caped heroes, the divorce lawyers, swoop in. They can be your guiding light and help you make decisions that won’t leave you crying into your cornflakes for years to come.

Scared it’s gonna cost an arm and a leg? Fear not! Many lawyers will work with you to make sure you’re not breaking the bank. Some even offer flat-fee divorces – it’s like happy hour, but for legal services! In certain cases, the court might even get your spouse to chip in for legal fees.

So don’t write off the idea of hiring a lawyer just because you’re worried about money. If your lawyer speeds things up and secures a better settlement, you might find it’s the best cash you’ve ever spent.

There are also several alternatives to handling the entire divorce on your own or hiring a lawyer for full representation. For free and low-cost options in California, check out this article.

Wrapping Up

Person at the beach feeling inspired and at peace.

It’s easy to see divorce as an ending – the end of a relationship, the end of a chapter. But try to see it as a beginning too. A chance to start fresh, to learn from your mistakes, and to find happiness again. Remember, my friends, this too shall pass. And until it does, we’re here to help you.

Disclaimer: This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice. Consult with a professional for your specific situation.