There are websites offering all sorts of legal assistance to the consumer. Some are better than others.

First, be careful when selecting forms for a pro se (Latin and legalese speak for “I don’t need an attorney I can do this my own self.”) Some sites promise “state-specific” forms, but they are anything but. They are generic at best and just plain wrong in some cases.

Courts vary from county and county, and sometimes court to court, what is and is not allowed. Some judges want specific wording in pleadings. If a case crosses their desk without their favorite buzzwords they can kick it back.

Court clerks can be very helpful. They cannot give legal advice, even though some of them know a lot more than some attorneys do. They can guide you on the procedure as well as what their judges prefer.

Also, some courts’ websites have forms available to the public. California is an excellent example. Almost every form (over 200 at last count, then all duplicated in Spanish) that could possibly be needed for a divorce is posted on their website. Take your time, go over not just the forms but the directions, then select the ones you think you will need.

Again, this is the time to confer with your local clerk of the court. If you are asking for child support, what form do you use? Did you fill out the parenting plan correctly? If there is no property that was owned jointly, is it necessary to complete a community property form?

Some sites will try to sell you forms. You can even buy “kits” in office supply stores. Be warned. While these are perfectly legal in some jurisdictions, they are patently illegal in others, and the buyer has little or no recourse against the manufacturer or the store from which they were purchased. Some judges consider the sale of these forms to be considered “practicing law without a license” and will not just send the petitioner home to do it over, but can throw the case completely out. If you case is dismissed, that means you will have to pay filing fees to the court again (which can range anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred). Some attorneys make a good living going back over people’s attempts to represent themselves and doing it right.

Also, some clerks’ offices will have fill in the blank forms, or “go by” forms available at their office.

Before venturing into court on your own, you may want to spend a day just observing. You can see what other people have done, and how the judge behaves with pro se filers and with attorneys. Find out when Motion day is, and just go hang you. It is educational, and sort of fun.

Do not be afraid to ask questions. There are no stupid questions. Learn But going into court unprepared proves the point that “a person who represents himself has a fool for a client”.

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