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Filing for your own divorce action is known as being a Pro Se litigant. Pro se is from the Latin in one's own behalf. Pro Se filers represent themselves in court, without an attorney representing them.
For many Pro Se litigants filing for divorce may mean meeting in front of a Judge for a short hearing. Many cases do not require a court appearance or hearing, but just in case it is always wise to be prepared. The experience can be intimidating and a little overwhelming, but the information on the page will give you the guidance and confidence you need. When appearing in court, it is important to pay attention, be respectful and only speak when you are called to do so.
The Judge will call your name and you should respond "present" or "here" so the Judge knows you are present in the courtroom. The Judge may summon you forward. When directed by the judge, you should come forward to the podium or to one of the tables at the front of the courtroom as directed by the Judge or the courtroom deputy. You should remain standing until directed to take a seat, and do not approach the bench where the judge sits unless directed to do so. Your hearing may also be less formal in a meeting room around a table, in which these introductory instructions typically do not apply.
Courtroom and Hearing Behavior
Certain standards define acceptable courtroom behavior.
Conservative clothing is always appropriate. Shorts, T-shirts, low necklines and torn clothing are not appropriate. Suits and dresses, which attorneys wear, are very appropriate and recommended. A court is a formal place and a conservative and respectful appearance in dress and behavior will make a favorable impression.
Children should not be brought to court or hearing unless instructed to do so. Unless the Judge orders that children attend a hearing or a trial, parents should make arrangements for someone to take care of them.
Certain behaviors are not allowed because they are noisy, distracting or disrespectful. Chewing gum, eating, reading newspapers, sleeping, wearing a hat, listening to earphones, carrying a cell phone or pager (unless turned off) are all discouraged and often prohibited.
You should listen carefully, and always ask the Judge for permission to speak. You should always speak directly to the Judge. When speaking to the Judge, a person should begin, "Your Honor," and speak loudly and clearly, but do not shout. Only one person can speak at a time. A court reporter records everything said and can only record one speaker at a time.
It is a good idea to speak in the third person when referring to the other party or his or her attorney.
What the Family Law Court Clerk Can Do
Court employees must remain neutral in order to preserve the integrity and independence of the Court. While the court clerks are prohibited from giving legal advice, they may be able to answer some basic questions about where to file papers, the number of copies required, and dates for court appearances. The clerk's office employees may provide procedural advice because ether are responsible for facilitating your divorce. The clerk and the office staff may:
What the Family Law Court Clerk Cannot Do
By law, the Clerk's Office staff and other court employees are prohibited from giving legal advice or performing any legal services. A court employee can give assistance about procedures, but only lawyers can give clients legal advice. A party should consult with an attorney when unsure about what to do to protect his or her rights and interests. Only a lawyer can advise regarding your rights and responsibilities.
The clerk and the staff may not recommend a lawyer, but they can often provide the telephone number of a local lawyer referral service.
What the Pro Se Filer Must Consider and Do
The decision to go Pro Se in court is an important one, and making this decision means you assume the responsibilities you are undertaking. The following are the basic responsibilities of someone who file his or her own divorce. Pro se divorce filers must: