First, one may think that I should have used “may I” instead of “can I” in the title. In this instance, “can I” is correct. Under our law, a person “may”
represent him or herself in our Courts of Common Pleas where divorces are filed, but “can” one do it correctly? Perhaps more importantly, will doing so save money? Let’s answer the money question first. Pennsylvania has 67 counties and each one has its own set of local court rules. These rules are in addition to our state rules controlling the proper documents and procedures for filing a divorce. When one sees an ad for a divorce “kit” or divorce “papers”… and I have seen them advertised for between $100.00 and $300.00 or more, they are normally being offered by someone who has read only the Pennsylvania state rules and does not even know about your county’s local rules. I have looked into these kits and discovered that most are put together by people who are not lawyers and not even located in Pennsylvania. In the one or two instances where it was a lawyer who put it together, it was never a Pennsylvania lawyer and, like the non-lawyers, they have no knowledge of local county rules either because few other states have or allow local county rules.
So, let us say that you invest in a kit, follow its instructions and take the completed papers to your county seat to file them. Your first surprise will be that you will need cash or a money order – the clerk will not accept your check – and the amount you will need to pay to file will be $200.00 to $300.00, some counties a little less, some a little more. You decide to pay, after all, you have already made an investment in the “kit” and it may seem sensible at this point to bite the bullet and pay the filing fee too. The clerk takes your document and you go home, intending to continue to follow the instructions you received and you do so.
A few days – or even weeks – later, you receive an envelope in the mail from the court. Inside, the letter informs you that the divorce you filed must be corrected to move forward. The letter does not explain the mistake but directs you to return to the office where you filed the divorce. As you found out when you filed originally, the court keeps limited hours, five days per week, usually when you have to be at work, but you do what you must and go there. You show the clerk the letter and the clerk points to a notice on the wall, “We are not permitted to give you any legal advice.”
So, where to go from here? You already have several hundred dollars (or more) invested not to mention your lost time. The people from whom you bought the kit cannot help….they simply do not know how because they are not a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer. And if you try to hire a local lawyer to fix the case you filed, you will be told that fixing it will cost more than starting a new case.
As you can see, you “may” file your own divorce, but…”can” you? I can handle your divorce from beginning to end for $219.00 and I will cover the filing fees. All you will have to do is read and follow simple instructions in the comfort of your home in your free time. True, you will need a few postage stamps, but I even provide the envelopes along with all properly constructed forms which I will file and for which I will be fully responsible.
DIY (Do It Yourself) may make sense for things like washing one’s car, but not for the unfamiliar ways of our courts.