How to Fight a Divorce Without a Lawyer
By Beverly Bird
When you’re embroiled in a contested divorce, it’s usually not the best time to begin mastering the applicable laws in your state. Sometimes this is unavoidable, however; not everyone can afford an attorney. If you can't and you must go it alone, arm yourself with as many facts as possible.
Protect yourself against underhanded tactics by your spouse. Assume she is recording everything you say, even if it's illegal for her to do so in your state. Hold onto your temper. Don't say anything she can turn against you. Predict that she might try to run up credit cards or clean out bank accounts. Freeze the cards and withdraw your half of the money first. Don’t spend it, however. The court may make you accountable for it later.
Document your relationship with your children. Keep a diary detailing who usually takes them to the doctor and who picks them up from daycare. Make a note of anyone else present on each occasion. If custody becomes an issue, you may need witnesses who can testify to your relationship with them. Video recordings and photographs are also potentially useful.
Locate and photocopy supporting documentation for all your debts, property and income. Store it in a safe place. This includes tax returns, pay stubs, monthly bills and monthly account statements. If you haven’t moved out already, walk through your home and video or photograph all your possessions that have any value. Do the same with the contents of any safe deposit boxes or storage units you might have.
Back up all the documentation you’ve collected with sworn statements from your spouse. In the divorce process, this is “discovery.” There may be assets or debts you don’t know about. Issue interrogatories to her, written questions she’s obligated to answer under oath. This forces her to disclose any accounts, business holdings or income she might not have shared with you. You can also issue a request for production of documents. This requires her to provide you with copies of all documentation associated with any of these matters.
File a motion after one of you has filed for divorce, asking the court to set temporary orders in place while your divorce is in progress. If your spouse is not letting you see your children, ask for parenting time. If your spouse is liquidating assets, ask the court to prohibit her from doing so and to account for the money.
Organize your documentation for trial. Many states require you to file a pretrial memorandum, explaining the details of your case. You can attach as exhibits the proof you’ve gathered through your own efforts and through the discovery process. Even if your state doesn’t require a memorandum, placing everything in a notebook with identifying tabs can help you lay your hands on what you need quickly during trial.
Motions can be a valuable tool in your trial preparation. Everything you and your spouse say in the courtroom is on the record, so she’s committing herself to her version of events. The judge may ask her questions you haven't thought of, which she must answer. Follow up after the motion hearing by asking the court for a copy of the transcript or recording so you have it for your records as you prepare for trial.
- Divorce Central: Twenty Winning Strategies for Coming Out Ahead in Your Divorce
- Minnesota Lawyers: Tips and Traps to Avoid
- Fox Rothschild: Procedure Cleared Up for the Filing of Cross Motions
- FindLaw: Exchange of Documents and Information – “Discovery”
- Family Education: Trials and Tribulations – Your Day in Divorce Court
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.