We are living in a time where do-it-yourself projects are more popular than ever. From renovating your own bathroom to landscaping your backyard into an outdoor paradise. Just about anyone can try to avoid the expense of hiring professional contractors with a little know-how, guidance, and maybe an informative You Tube video or two. So what about DIY divorces? Pro se is a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself”, but to the South Carolina Family Court it means a party who is representing themselves. Believe it or not, it can be possible when facing divorce to go it alone without an attorney; however, just like that one wrong move in your bathroom renovation that resulted in flooding your entire house, it’s important to know what you can handle on your own, and what you can’t or shouldn’t.
There are many families who contemplate divorce; however, they believe that they cannot afford a divorce attorney. In fact, in some South Carolina counties, you may find what is called a Pro se Divorce packet for parties who want to represent themselves in their divorce proceedings. This packet provides most of the forms need to file and obtain a divorce.
Handling your own divorce is not for every family. Most unrepresented parties that utilize the Pro se Divorce packet are parties that have settled all of their issues AND are in agreement on issues such as: child custody, child support, and the division of marital assets and debts. In South Carolina, these types of divorces are considered uncontested divorce. It is fairly common for parties who have been separated for one year or more to file for an uncontested divorce using the pro se divorce packet if they agree on the above issues.
Although the divorce packet is helpful, it is not for people who disagree on child custody, child support, alimony, and the distribution of marital assets and debts. These can be highly contentious and complicated issues. Given the complexity and the intricacies of matters like custody, it is generally recommended that you seek legal advice from an experienced family law attorney.
If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse believe that you can handle the divorce using the Pro se packet, here are some tips to survive your D.I.Y divorce:
12 Steps to a DIY Divorce
- Complete all the necessary forms and have the packet reviewed by an attorney. (Yes, you should still hire an attorney to review the paperwork). Invest now so that you don’t have to fix problems that you don’t know about until later.
- File the divorce complaint with the court and pay the filing fee.
- “Serve” the filed divorce complaint via Certified Mail or Return Receipt requested to your spouse.
- Complete an Affidavit of Mail or Service and file that document with the court.
- After filing your Affidavit of Mail or Service, complete and file a Request for Hearing document.
- Once you receive a hearing date, a Notice of Hearing will have to be served to your spouse or spouse’s attorney by certified mail, return receipt requested.
- Once you have served the Notice of Hearing on your spouse, you will need to complete and file an Affidavit of Service.
- Make sure to bring a witness who can testify regarding your marriage to your spouse.
- The judge may ask you questions concerning your marriage. It is important that you listen carefully and answer all questions asked.
- You may be asked to call your witness to the stand. Don’t panic! The pro se packet also comes with a sample script! Read the sample script carefully to each witness.
- These hearings typically last 30 minutes or less.
- Once the judge grants the divorce, hand the judge the Final Order of Divorce along with the completed Report of Divorce or Annulment, all which are provided to you in your divorce packet.
It is important to remember that although the judge has granted you a divorce, you are NOT divorced until the Final Order for Divorce has been signed by the judge and filed with the Clerk of Court.
While a D.I.Y. divorce may seem straightforward, it involves a lot of documentation that must be completed correctly. All documents in the Pro Se divorce packet serve a purpose and are necessary in legally securing a divorce. While these tips focus on how to file for divorce, it does not cover what to do if you are the one receiving a filed divorce complaint. Fortunately, South Carolina has forms for Pro se Defendants as well. Check out Self-Represented Litigant-Defendant Forms.
Should you decide to use the Pro Se packet to file for divorce, it is still highly recommended that each party seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney to review all documents before filing with the Court. In your haste to get a divorce, you don’t want to unknowingly and mistakenly waive your rights to certain marital assets, such as retirement accounts, real estate, or even alimony. Having an attorney review your documentation will ensure your legal rights are addressed and protected.
Remember, representing yourself in your own divorce proceedings is not for everyone. DIY divorces are only recommended for when you and your spouse agree on everything.
If you and your spouse cannot agree, or you simply want the reassurance that you are doing everything correctly, we welcome you to come see one of the experienced family law attorneys at Sodoma Law York!