Welcome to the next post in this series on filing for divorce without a lawyer in West Virginia.
If you have followed these posts, you may have taken the first steps and decided that you can file for divorce in West Virginia. You and your spouse went to mediation and now have a written parenting plan and property settlement agreement. What’s next? How do you get to court?
While this series is about filing for divorce without a lawyer, you should consider talking to a lawyer before you file. There are many reasons to simply talk with a lawyer...
- You could meet with an attorney to evaluate your agreements and let you know whether or not they seem fair or consistent with the laws.
- You could meet with an attorney to help you fill out the paperwork for your divorce. Some attorneys will prepare your pleadings without being retained to go to court.
- Finally, you could meet with an attorney or attorneys and select one to file the paperwork and represent you in the court hearing. It is usually best to meet with more than one attorney before you make that decision.
Filing Without an Attorney
If you have decided to complete the pleadings, file them, and attend your court hearing without a lawyer, it is possible. West Virginia's courts support citizens filing for divorce without an attorney. By the way, it's not always been like that! When I was an attorney with West Virginia Legal Services in the late 1980’s, I developed a clinic to help clients file for divorce, in very simple cases, without attorneys. At first, the idea was met with a great deal of resistance. We initially had clerks refuse to accept handwritten pleadings. Eventually, the Supreme Court adopted rules that required that handwritten petitions be accepted. A circuit judge in Cabell County refused to finalize a divorce, insisting that the pro se litigant draft the own final order. After we filed a petition, the Supreme Court ordered that the judge prepare the final order, solidifying the right to pursue a divorce, without counsel.
When you decide not to hire an attorney, the courts may call your case a “pro se divorce." To file your divorce pro se, follow the instructions and complete all documents that are included in the pro se packet on the West Virginia Supreme Court's website. You may download them and fill them out on your computer, or you can print them out and fill in the forms. After you complete the forms, make a copy and take them, along with a money order or cash to cover the filing fee, for to the Circuit Clerk in your county. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you may fill out a statement, ask that the fee be waived.
Once you file the paperwork, it needs to be served on the opposing party. However, if your spouse agrees to the divorce, your spouse may complete the “Respondent’s Packet” that includes an acceptance of service.
At that point, you just need to wait. The court will be in touch with you to provide information as to when or if you need to attend the class, a mediation orientation, and when your hearing will be held. In my next post of the series, I will cover how you can prepare for your hearing.
Need more help?
There are some resources available to assist you in completing your divorce, with and without an attorney.
- If you are interested in locating an attorney, not to go to court, but to review your agreement or draft your divorce paperwork, you may want to start by contacting attorneys who are certified in collaborative law. If you are interested in hiring an attorney to represent you in drafting your paperwork and going to court, you can contact the West Virginia State Bar lawyer referral program.
- If you do not want to hire an attorney, but you do have legal questions, here are a few resources:
- If you have a question about what the law requires, attorneys Lyne Ranson and Brittany Ranson Stonestreet have recently published a book, "Divorce in West Virginia: The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect" available at amazon.com.
- If you have a question about how the law might impact your case, you can call The West Virginia State Bar provides a hotline where you can call and ask legal questions to a licensed West Virginia attorney on Tuesday nights from 6:00-8:00 p.m. The number is 1-800-642-3617
If you are concerned about your legal rights, they are always going to be best protected by retaining an attorney. Proceed carefully!