You’ve decided to file for a divorce. You want to do it yourself, to save money. While it is wisest to hire an attorney to handle the entire case, you can do it on your own. And, if you need help, you can find it.
Before you file anything, or attempt mediation or other forms of settlement, you need to know what you have, what you want, and what is possible to obtain. There are many issues to review, and you can always hire counsel, on a limited basis, to explore all of the issues, and matters that must be addressed. There is also the issue of whether you need to obtain temporary orders on such issues as custody and parent-time, support (child and alimony), use of the residence and property, paying the debts and ongoing cost of living. Again, this can be discussed so that you can make plans.
When you download your forms, you should review them with an experienced family law attorney, again on a limited basis, to ensure you have covered all issues adequately, and moving toward your goals. The forms that I have seen often have a lot of extraneous language that is not required, and language that you may not fully understand — such as exactly what joint legal custody, joint custody, gross income (for support purposes), retirement and QDRO issues, to name just a few. So, get educated and do things right the first time, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to change things once you file.
Okay, you obtain your form, completed it, filed it, and served it on your spouse. Surprise, your spouse files an answer fighting all kinds of things. And, your spouse may have even filed a counterclaim. That means the case is contested, there are disputes. So, you should get with an attorney to assist you, particularly as you have to file a reply to the counterclaim in a timely manner.
There will be financial forms that you must complete, and financial documents you must disclose. If you make errors on those, the court can hold that against you. There is “discovery” to handle, formal questions and requests for information. And, sometimes the other spouse does not follow the rules, and must be “compelled” to do so. An attorney can help you on all of that.
You can hire an attorney to assist you for part, or all of the remaining work. You will need help to obtain temporary orders, prepare for and attend mediation, appear for pretrials and trial. And, your really should be prepared for trial before you attempt to mediate, that way you know your case and what is reasonable a proper (plus you can only force one mediation, so if the first doesn’t work out, you may not be able to try again). The sooner you hire an attorney to help you the better you can prepare. Don’t wait until the last minute!
And, understand that any attorney will need time to prepare documents, and pleadings, as well as formulate theories of the case. The attorney will need to work with you, in detail, to learn your case. It is not something that can effectively be done the day before a hearing (plus you would have lost valuable time to file the appropriate pleadings).
So, the best of luck to you. And, if you need help, it is available.