You’re watching your favorite baseball team on the TV, when suddenly there’s a knock at the door. It’s the marshal, and he has a present for you: your divorce papers. There’s no need to hide from him. It’s best to accept the inevitable and respond to the papers.
In this installment of Proceeding Without a Lawyer, I’ll give you some dos and don’ts, and some tips for handling the response.
Tip 1: Don’t Bury Your Head in the Sand–Respond On Time.
Your summons will tell you that you have 30 days to respond. Don’t wait until the last minute–file your response as soon as you can. This may be a good time to schedule a consultation with a family lawyer. But you must file a response on the correct form (FL-120) If you have children, you must also file a document called a UCCJEA declaration. You may also attach a form FL-160, declaring what property you own and how you propose for the property to be divided.
The filing fee in San Diego is currently $395.00, so come to the courthouse prepared to pay the fee, or fill out a fee waiver petition if you absolutely cannot afford the filing fee. Failure to pay the fee or file and serve the response on time could expose you to default, which means you lose your case.
Tip 2: When You Must See a Lawyer.
True to our philosophy of practice, you truly can represent yourself. This is especially true if you have a good rapport with your soon-to-be-ex, or are able to cooperate. However, if you have been served, chances are that there’s not much trust between you and your former husband or wife. Consider a consultation with a lawyer when:
1. Your spouse has a lawyer. You’ll know this because, on the first page of the petition, there will be a lawyer’s name instead of your spouse’s name and address. At the very least, consult with a lawyer at this point, as you’ll need some advice. Also, you may wish to avail yourself of some of the educational seminars that are available, such as the Divorce Workshop for Men, Second Saturday and Third Saturday. You may still represent yourself, but get some coaching from a qualified attorney.
2. The Papers Include an Order to Show Cause or Notice of Motion. If your spouse is requesting temporary orders, you’ll need to act fast. There are time limits to respond to Orders to Show Cause, and if you don’t file a response to these papers, the judge could decide your temporary support, child-sharing arrangement, custody and visitation in favor of your spouse. You can either have a lawyer represent you in the entire case, or for that motion or hearing only. You can have a lawyer ghost write your response and your declarations. But don’t wait; these deadlines come up very quickly.
3. The Papers Accuse You of Spousal Abuse, Child Abuse or Child Neglect. These allegations are serious, and this is when you may need a heavy hitter. Your hearing will likely involve the presentation of testimony and other evidence, and I recommend that you have a lawyer on your side in these cases.
If you don’t take anything else away from this, please take this: This is not going away. You’re not going to be able to claim you didn’t get the papers. The worst thing you can do is to ignore the problem and hope it will go away.
All hope of self representation is not gone because you have been served with time-sensitive papers. But you should get some help, and this help can take the form of having a lawyer represent you for the whole case, for just a pending hearing, or just to draft papers and give you some strategy tips. At our office, we can provide assistance at any of these levels so that you won’t go broke paying for your attorney.
That’s all for now. Wishing you luck on this bumpy road, I remain …
Very truly yours,
Disclaimer: Thomas D. Ferreira is an attorney licensed only in the State of California. The information set forth in this blog or on our websites are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor are they intended as legal advice on your specific matter. This information is not intended to apply to cases or jurisdictions outside the State of California, and those viewing this information outside of California, or having business before jurisdictions outside of California, should consult a local professional or lawyer. The information in this blog is not a substitute for the advice of competent counsel, and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter.