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Step-by-Step Instructions

Step-by-Step Instructions for Self-Representing
Your Case in Family Law Matters

Please read the following instructions carefully:

Representing yourself in an even “simple” case is NOT a simple feat. Filling out the forms and following unfamiliar legal steps require tremendous amounts of patience and attention to detail.  Any small misstep or error may bring unexpected and serious implications for your life and the lives of your family members.  Additionally, the chance of losing the case is greater when you represent yourself in a case where the other party has an attorney.  Accordingly, we strongly urge you to give careful consideration about your decision to represent yourself in court. 

If you are considering the self representation option primarily due to financial reasons, we urge you to contact the following organizations that provide legal services free of charge or at substantially reduced rates for qualified individuals:

Pro Bono Program provides free legal representation, based on income and issue.  They also operate free evening legal clinics throughout the county.  Monday through Thursday, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.mCall301-424-7651.  Se Habla Español.

Archdiocesan Legal Network provides free legal representation to low income residents of Maryland and DC.  Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.  Call:  202-628-4263
Para Español, llame:  202-772-4325.

The Legal Aid Bureau free legal representation for those who meet their income and other guidelines. (301) 927-6800 or 1-888-215-5316  * Domestic Law: Wednesdays, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
En Español -- Miercoles, de 10 am a 12 pm (mediodia).

Montgomery County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service – Attorney referrals. Reduced fee available upon request for low-income clients.  Call:  301-279-9100.   Se Habla Español.

This section provides you with step-by-step instructions on what you need to prepare and file to bring your case.

  1. What you need to do before you file your papers
  2. Obtain necessary forms
  3. Fill out the forms
  4. File the forms in the Court
  5. What you need to do after you file your papers
  6. What you need to do before you come to the Court
  7. What to do on the day of your appearance in the Court

1. What you need to do before you file your papers

  1. Determine what you want the Court to do
  2. Determine if you meet all the conditions for filing your complaint, motion or petition
Determine what you want the Court to do

Family Law Self Help Center assistance is available only for the following family/domestic relation cases.  If you are considering representing yourself in a Civil or Criminal case, consult a lawyer.

Divorce (absolute divorce): I want the Court to grant me a complete ending of my marriage, so that I can remarry if I want to.
Separation (limited divorce): I want the Court to formally declare that I separated from my spouse, but I am not ready for, or cannot have, a final divorce (absolute divorce) yet.
Alimony: I want the Court to set or change the amount of money that I receive from (or give) the other party for maintenance when we divorce or are legally separated, or while such action is pending.
Child Custody: I want the Court to decide who has the responsibility of physically living with the child and/or making major decisions for him/her, and how that responsibility should be shared with the other party.
Visitation: I want the Court to decide how often I (or the other party) can see the child and how the necessary arrangements will be made.
Contempt: The other party is not honoring the arrangements ordered by the Court, and I want the Court to enforce the order.
 Child Support or its Modification: I want the Court to determine, or change, the amount of monthly payment that I (or the other party) must provide to support taking care of the child.
 Paternity: I want to determine who is the legal father of a child.

Determine if you meet all the conditions for filing your complaint, motion or petition

Before filing your case in Montgomery County Circuit Court, you may want to make sure the Court has proper “jurisdiction” over the case, that is, the Court is allowed to hear your case.  Below are factors that you may need to consider to determine if the Montgomery County Circuit Court has the jurisdiction to hear your case:

Case History
Residency Requirements
Other Case Type-Specific Requirements

Case History

Residency Requirements

Absolute and Limited Divorce
You can file a complaint for both types of divorce in Montgomery County Circuit Court if you live in Montgomery County or your spouse lives or works in the County.  If the grounds for divorce occurred outside of Maryland, you cannot file for divorce in Maryland until either you or your spouse has lived in Maryland for at least one year.

Child Support
You can file a complaint for child support in the Montgomery County Circuit Court if you, or the non-custodial parent, live in Montgomery County.

Child Custody
You can file a complaint for child custody in Maryland if one of the followings conditions is met:

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Other Case Type-Specific Requirements

The following case types required additional conditions before filing your case:

Absolute Divorce
Limited Divorce
Modifications to the Existing Child Custody or Visitation Order
Modifications to the Existing Child Support

Absolute Divorce
One of the following conditions must be met before you are able to file a complaint for an absolute divorce:

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Limited Divorce

One of the following conditions must be met before you are able to file a complaint for a limited  divorce:

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Modifications to the Existing Child Custody/ or Visitation Order
For the court to grant your petition to modify custody/visitation, the following conditions must be met:

  1. You must have a court order for custody or visitation and you were named as a Plaintiff or Defendant in that court case. To file a modification petition or order, you will need a copy of the original custody or visitation order. If you do not have a copy, ask the Clerk of the Court how to get one.
  2. There must have been a substantial change in circumstances that makes it in the best interests of the child(ren) to change the current arrangements of custody/visitation. While there are no clear-cut criteria as to what constitutes a “substantial” change in circumstances, you need to describe any changes in your, your child’s, and/or your former spouse’s, circumstances, such as financial status, health, living arrangement, and employment that may have made the current custody/visitation arrangements not in the best interest of the child.  It is not enough to show that the child(ren) will be better off with the modification you are requesting.  You must be able to show a substantial change in circumstance before the Court can even consider the changes you want to make

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Modifications to the Existing Child Support Order

2. Obtain the Forms

  1. Getting a hard copy of the forms: All forms are available at the FAMILY DEPARTMEMT WINDOW, South Tower 1st floor Room 1460 of the Circuit Court.  They are packaged by the following case type:
    • Packet #1: Complaint for Child Support
    • Packet #2: Petition for Contempt for Failure to Pay Child Support
    • Packet #3: Petition for Contempt for Denial of Visitation
    • Packet #4: Complaint for Custody
    • Packet #5: Complaint for Visitation
    • Packet #6: Petition /Motion to Modify Child Support
    • Packet #7: Petition /Motion to Modify Custody or Visitation
    • Packet #8: Complaint for Divorce-Absolute or Limited (Includes Custody, Visitation, and Support)
    • Packet #8A: Uncontested Absolute Divorce (No Property, No Children, No Alimony… or a Signed Separation Agreement exists which addresses these issues)
    • Packet #9: Answer to Complaint/Petition /Motion
    • Packet #10: Answer to Complaint/Petition /Motion with Divorce Counter-Claim
  2. On-line Downloading : The forms can be downloaded from Maryland Department of Family Administration website. Make sure to read “General Instructions” available at the top of the page.

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3. Fill out the forms

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4. File the forms in the Court

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5. What you need to do after you file your papers

How to serve the other party

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Service by Sheriff: 

This is a good method to serve the other party residing in Montgomery County (the Sheriff’s Office will not serve outside of the County).

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Service by Private Process:

There are two ways to serve someone by private process:

  1. A private process serving company for a fee
  2. An adult over the age of 18

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Private Process Serving Companies:

This method is often fast and is also good if the other side is hard to locate or outside of Montgomery County.

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Private Process Service Using an Adult over the Age of 18:

This is an inexpensive way to serve someone. THE PRIVATE PROCESS SERVER CANNOT BE YOU.

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Service by Certified Mail (with Restricted Delivery and Return Receipt Requested)

This is a good method of service if the other side lives far from you. It does require that the other side accept the papers and personally sign the post office receipt card (green card).

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How to Serve an Answer

Specified time answer must be filed
If a party is served The party should answer within
In Maryland 30 days after service
In another state 60 days after service
Outside the United States 90 days after service

     (If the other side does not file an Answer, in order for the case to proceed, you must file a Request for an Order of Default by filing Dom. REL. 54.)

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How to Serve a Counterclaim with your Answer

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6. What you need to do before you come to the Court

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7. What to do on the day of your appearance in the Court

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If you have questions about processing the forms or are unsure about whether it is wise to handle your case without a lawyer:

The Family Law Self Help Center is located in the South Tower 1st floor, room 1500 of the Circuit Court,  50 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland, 20850, and operates Monday through Friday (except Court holidays) from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Family Law Self Help Center and the Legal Forms Helpline provide services free of charge.

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These instructions were reviewed by the Family Court Division Support Services Subcommittee of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County and are applicable until further notice.

 

 
Montgomery County Circuit Court
50 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850
Office Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM