General rules: If you can afford a lawyer, you should hire a lawyer. If the other side has a lawyer, you should have a lawyer. If you're going pro se on principle because you hate lawyers, well, you've just given yourself another hill to die on because I guess your stbx isn't providing you enough of those. This isn't legal advice.
View of pro se parties: Judges, lawyers, clerks, and bailiffs don't look down on pro se litigants because they don't have money. And in fact, they feel for the pro se litigants and are actually very helpful IF they believe you're "trying". The collective eye-rolling begins when an unprepared pro se comes into the court demanding things and ignoring procedure because this wastes everyone's time - especially the other litigants who are there waiting for their turn to see the judge. Additionally, I've seen judges absolutely hammer lawyers who abuse pro se litigants in the courtroom. No one hates pro se litigants, we hate inconsiderate, unprepared assholes and bitches who make everyone's job harder without giving a shit.
My pro se experience: Before law school, I pled not guilty to a traffic ticket and got my case dismissed in Lakewood, Colorado. I had to approach the prosecutor three or four times before he would talk to me, I had evidence with me for him to review and the cop didn't show up, I was persistent but not annoying - well he probably thought I was annoying but he nolle prosecui'd the case. YUGE WIN.
Rule Number 1: You will read a lot. If you don't like reading boring shit, don't go pro se. Law is not rocket science but it can be pretty confusing and dry reading. And behind every statute is a wealth of court cases interpreting that statute. EDIT: And read all of your case's paperwork - every word. Everything the court orders, everything she files, everything - and understand it. You can't begin to represent yourself if you don't know what is going on. Plus, you should do this even if you are represented.
Rule Number 2: You will write a lot. If you don't like writing boring shit using complete sentences, don't go pro se. Just about every fact the court will eventually decide on appears as an allegation in some sort of pleading or motion first. EDIT: And take notes, when the other side is talking, when you have something to say to the judge but it's not your turn. Pen and paper with you everywhere. Thanks /u/jgoodstein
Rule Number 3: Procedure precedes Substance. Courts are, more than anything else, creatures of procedure. Divorcing people are creatures of emotion and substance. These don't often go well together because you want to run in and tell the judge how shit the other side is, but they're not ready to hear that until the preliminaries are done. Follow the roads and the street signs to get where you're going.
Rule Number 4: Procedure often pre-empts Substance. Every court follows a number of sets of procedural rules, you should read all of them. There's the procedure code at the state level, the local rules and the courtroom rules. If you're only going to read one set of rules, you lazy bastard, read the courtroom rules for your judge so you don't piss them off. If it says don't wear a blue tie on Thursdays, then don't.
Rule Number 5: Be nice. Be polite, respectful, patient and fucking nice - especially to your judge's clerk. Wait your turn. Follow the lead of others. On your court date, arrive on time and check in with the clerk.
"Hi, how are you? Please. Thank you."
Mean it and listen to the response - clerks spend their days helping others with almost no gratitude.
Rule Number 6: Be prepared. Practice what you're going to say in the mirror a bunch of times before you go in.
"Good morning your honor, my name is Bob Jones - J - O - N - E - S -, the petitioner in this case, and I am here on my petition for rule to show cause for the respondent's failure to respond to my discovery requests."
If you nail that opening, chances are you will get a shit ton of slack for the rest.
Rule Number 7: Wait your turn and address the judge. Don't interrupt the other side or directly address the other side, even if the other side says some bullshit unless you are in a position to object (which you probably won't be unless there is a witness sworn in) or if you have permission from the judge. Courtrooms are like bowling, everyone takes turns and the judge bowls whenever they fucking want so you better get out of the way. So for god's sake don't interrupt the judge. When there is a pause -
"Your honor, I disagree with what the respondent's lawyer has said. May I?" "Your honor, I beg to differ. May I?" "Your honor, may I respond?" "Your honor, may I clarify?" "Your honor, I think there is a misunderstanding. May I?"
Not - "Judge, that fucking sack of shit lawyer of my soon to be ex bitch is a lying shit heel." or even worse "Counsel, you're a fucking lying sack of shit." Every time you reassure the judge that you know it's their courtroom and you know the basic rules, you build credibility, which will probably buy you some more slack and time for when you have to get out a difficult or unclear thought.
Rule Number 8: Explain your attire. Dress the best you can. And if you can't dress appropriately, apologize to the court and tell them why the first chance you get. This is the number one way to get your story before the judge outside of the official process.
"Your honor, I'm sorry, I just took unpaid time off from work for this hearing and need to go right back so I didn't have time to change." "Your honor, I'm sorry for my appearance but all my suits are in the house and according to the emergency order I can't contact my stbx or go to the house to get my things."
Right there, you've told the judge you're following the order and probably why you're there. And damn if they won't feel something.
Don't push it too far but these little things make you human and can be important.
Rule Number 9: Use the help that's offered. Use the resources you're provided. Sometimes there are people there to help you fill out forms. Most courts have law libraries which contain books with sample motions for everything you could possibly want to file. Desk and Filing Clerks aren't supposed to help with a lot of things but sometimes they do, and they know the system better than any lawyer and most judges because behind the scenes they run the show. Especially things like service of process and making sure you have all the necessary documents together.
Rule Number 10: Win some, lose some. Don't throw a tantrum if you don't get what you want and for fuck's sake, don't start talking about your Constitutional rights to free speech and shit after the judge tells you to sit down and shut up, because you're done. You can ask to say more or you can ask the judge to reconsider - but that's about the limit of what they'll tolerate.
Rule Number 11: You're not a lawyer. Don't pretend to be a lawyer. Don't try to talk like a lawyer. Don't try to make complex legal arguments like a lawyer. You'll end up looking foolish. Don't use big words unnecessarily and don't use big words incorrectly. Be plain spoken and direct.
Rule Number 12: Speak slowly. Speak slowly. If there is a court reporter present, which there usually is, they will need to keep up. You can be nervous - everyone is nervous so don't be embarrassed by that. Just take some deep breaths and say what you need to say the best that you can - but say it slowly. Nervousness makes us speak much faster and it is a problem if something important doesn't make the record. Pause at the end of sentences. Notice the pace of the judge and the other lawyers in speaking - that's your guide.
That's all for now, I know there are some other lurking lawyers who might weigh in and anyone who has gone pro se - would really like to hear your experience and advice.
EDIT: we'll make it 12 rules in Jordan Peterson style
TL;DR - if you're only reading this, don't go pro se