Although some economists say that the great recession ended in the summer of 2009, someone better tell the hordes of unemployed or under employed people. The labor market is brutal, and if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you likely also have a pile of debt and a house worth less than the mortgage balance.

In this economy, self-represented litigants (“pro-pers”) are lining up at the family clerk’s office, or perhaps deciding to live in an unbearable marriage because of the high cost of a divorce. If you really need a divorce, but can’t afford to retain a lawyer, you can represent yourself. This article is the first in a series of posts on what to do when you have to do it yourself. My hope is to point you, the lawyerless litigant, toward some resources that will help you to “do it yourself.” There are ways of using lawyers for “unbundled services” that can get results at relatively low cost, using the lawyer only for what’s essential.


The very first piece of advice I offer runs somewhat counter to the advice you’ll get from other attorneys. That’s because my goal is not to gain an early advantage in the litigation to club your soon-to-be-ex. Instead, I want to set you up for long-term success, so that you can go on with life, avoid the conflict, and eventually co-parent successfully.

If there is no immediate danger of domestic violence, I recommend that you discuss your intentions to file before filing and serving a petition for dissolution of marriage.

I would ask that you consider the emotional impact of serving your unsuspecting spouse with a petition to dissolve the marriage, and a notice of hearing or order to show cause for temporary custody and support orders. After the screaming dies down, most blind-sided spouses react with a mixture of fear, shock and anger. Their natural reaction is to run to the toughest lawyer they can find. This strategy often leads to expensive, high-conflict divorces.

Remember that you likely have been considering this move for a while, and likely have gone through the grieving process already. Once served, your spouse will likely go from zero to blastoff in less than 10 seconds.

In my view, the best way to express your intentions is to avoid blame, or even mentioning the reason for your decision. If you are firm in your intention, tell your spouse that you have decided to ask for a divorce. In doing so, take the “and” stance. I know this is hard. And I know that you’ve tried as hard as you can to change. And, I know this will be hard on the kids. And, I’m not changing my mind.

You may wish to give the other spouse some time to process the announcement. Explain that there are alternatives to hiring lawyers that will make the process easier emotionally, easier on the children, and far less expensive.

You may wish to attend one of the excellent workshops offered in the San Diego area, such as the Second Saturday program featured at Men, there is also a men’s workshop advertised on their home page. Our office also does a workshop on the divorce process through Palomar College’s Venture program. I recommend that you encourage your spouse to attend a workshop as well as, in my view, the best results come when both parties understand their rights and obligations, and have a working knowledge of the process.

The alternative to “The Talk” is to prepare in advance, putting money aside as often as you can to build a war chest, making copies of all financial records, and in the mean time being the model spouse to deceive your spouse. This may seem like it gives you the advantage, but in my opinion, it is the fastest way to an expensive, brutal legal battle in which the only winners are the 2 attorneys.

In future posts I’ll have some tips on filing paperwork, getting temporary orders, talking to your children about the divorce and negotiating. I know this is hard, and I wish you the best of luck in managing this trying situation. I am …

Very truly yours,

Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.

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, warrantee or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter.

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