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Can I handle my own divorce without a lawyer?

Yes. Many people handle their own divorces without formal attorney representation. The term for someone who represents himself or herself in a legal matter is in propria persona, more commonly known as pro per.

When someone chooses this option, it is usually to avoid the cost of hiring an attorney. Still, many people do handle their own divorces successfully, particularly when they have very little property and no children. But be aware that, as a pro per, you could accidentally make expensive mistakes. And if your spouse has an attorney, it may be even more difficult for you to effectively represent yourself.

If you are considering self-representation simply because you cannot afford an attorney, a judge may order your spouseā€”if he or she has more resources than you-to help pay for your legal representation. Or, if you have very little income, you might qualify for free or cut-rate assistance.

As a pro per, you may use the services of a consulting attorney or a mediator, or you may handle your divorce entirely on your own. For assistance, you might turn to self-help books, the Internet or a family law facilitator (if one is available at your local court). In addition, the librarian at your local county law library may be able to guide you to the appropriate resources and forms for your particular issues. You will need to educate yourself about the court requirements. For example, be aware that you should:

  • Prepare and serve the applicable official disclosure forms.
  • Put all agreements in writing and file them with the court for a judicial officer’s signature.
  • Follow the rules of evidence and legal procedures governing how and what you may present for the court’s review.
  • Make sure that your court filings are in the correct format and that they comply with any specific requirements. (Many forms and instructions can be found on the California Courts website at www.courtinfo.ca.gov.)
  • Present evidence that is admissible.
  • Argue issues that the judge has a legal right to consider. (For example, fault in the marriage or moral obligations generally would not be taken into account.)