How to Petition the Court Without an Attorney

By Charlie Gaston - Updated June 05, 2017
Man with judge

Filing a petition with a court can be a confusing and overwhelming process if you're unsure of the requirements. However, from filing a divorce petition to filing a bankruptcy petition, you can find the forms you need and obtain a court date in several hours. You'll have to do some research and legwork, but this guide will give you a general overview of how to file a petition with the court.

It's important to note that any case that is heard in a court of law is received as a petition first. To petition the court, you must obtain the appropriate form and request a court date or hearing. By filing the form, you are "petitioning" the court to hear the case. The word petition is used as a description of the process and only implies filing a form for a judge to review a case or make a ruling on a matter, such as opening adoption records or requesting spousal support.

Get the Required Documents

Go to the clerk office at the courthouse and request the documents you need to file your petition, which include the petition form and any other documents such as a summons or a case-related cover-sheet, depending on the type of petition. You may choose to download the legal documents online from the court's website. Forms are available online so they can be brought to the courthouse already complete, but this is not compulsory. If you obtain the forms at the courthouse, bring a clipboard so you can complete them while you wait in line. The forms must be completed in their entirety.

Prove Your Identity

Provide a Social Security card and photo ID when asked by the court clerk. You must provide proof of identity to file any petition with a court or to request a trial.

Pay the Fees

Pay the appropriate filing fees. You can pay by check, money order, credit card and, in some cases, cash. If you can prove you are indigent, it may be possible to have the fees waived.

File the Petition

Make copies of the form and file the petition. Generally, you're required to provide three copies of any form when filing a petition. You must sign each of the three copies and present them to the court on the day you file the petition. Each will be stamped with a case number, a trial date or hearing date, and the court where the case will be heard.

Serve a Summons if Needed

If others are involved with your case, you will have to serve them a summons to get them to appear in court. This document would be provided to you when you file the petition. You may give the summons to the person yourself, through the sheriff's office, or through a service approved by the court you are filing with.

Prepare For Your Case

Research the requirements for you case as best you can, using online resources and by going to the local library. You may also submit evidence, if necessary, as well as other documents, such as a credit counseling certificate for a bankruptcy petition, date of separation for a divorce petition or statement of income for a spousal support petition.

Review the petition for errors and correct any mistakes beforehand. Judge's typically aren't allowed to cut self-represented litigants any slack if they are not prepared or don't know the law.

About the Author

Charlie Gaston has written numerous instructional articles on topics ranging from business to communications and estate planning. Gaston holds a bachelor's degree in international business and a master's degree in communications. She is fluent in Spanish and has extensive travel experience.

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