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The COVID divorce

September 21, 2020

During the Great Depression and the Great Recession divorce rates fell before increasing as the economy recovered. Based on this history and a 34 percent increase in self-help divorce template sales compared to sales this time last year, experts are expecting courts to soon be busy with divorce cases. With households experiencing less income during the Great Recession courts saw an increase in self-represented divorce cases. Coupled with the data on self-help divorce materials sales, a large number of pro se divorce cases might follow the coronavirus pandemic.

Pro se divorces can be frustrating and exasperating for self-represented litigants navigating the legal process alone. The process can be vexing for court staff who are bound by ethics and the law to remain neutral and not assist self-represented litigants. To make the process as easy as possible for both sides while honoring their role as independent arbitrators, many courts have developed resource guides for those navigating a divorce on their own. While the content and form of these guides may vary, one consistent message is the recommendation to contact a lawyer to make sure the litigant’s rights are protected. Some examples of how courts are clarifying the divorce process for self-represented litigants include:

CA

California’s Judicial Branch’s self help guide to divorce and separation.

CT 

Connecticut’s judicial branch’s divorce navigator and Do It Yourself Divorce Guide.

Fairfax 

Fairfax County, Virginia has a guide to self-represented divorces and a pro se divorce brochure.

Hancock 

Hancock County, Indiana self-represented divorce instructions include Indiana’s statewide forms system where users can find a pro se divorce guide.

Harris 

The Harris County, Texas, Law Library Self-Help Resource Center includes a divorce general information guide.

Minnesota 

Minnesota has a statewide pro se divorce guide with a new tool to help self-represented litigants create and file the necessary forms.

Washington County 

Washington County, Pennsylvania, has a Pro Se Divorce Guide.

Waukesha 

Waukesha County, Wisconsin has a guide to pro se divorcewith a link to the necessary forms.

Wisconsin  

The Wisconsin court system self-help law center divorce and family law section includes a new forms assistant and PDF basic guide to divorce/legal separation.

The National Center for State Courts has a number of resources to help courts as they work to create or update their pro se divorce and separation materials in anticipation of this surge in divorces. For more information on easing the divorce process please visit: the Marriage/Divorce/Custody/Support Resource Guide, Guide to Triaging Divorce Cases, Checklist for Simplified ODR Divorces , and Court Forms - Self-Representation State Links.

To share how you or your court are managing pro se divorces follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest and share your experiences. For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.