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What is a Pro Se Motion?

By Lori Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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Any time a person wants to ask the court to do something — such as set a hearing date, enforce a prior court order, or take other legal action — he or she is generally required to file a motion. This can be done with, or without, the assistance of an attorney. When a pro se motion is filed, it means that the request is made without the assistance of a lawyer. Even when an individual files this type of paperwork with the court without counsel, he or she must usually use the same format, and abide by the same rules that legal representatives are required to follow.

The inability to afford an attorney is the most common reason for someone to file a pro se motion. Most court systems provide the required documents at little or no cost. It is important to carefully read and follow all of the instructions that accompany these forms when filing this type of motion. Incorrect or incomplete paperwork submitted to a judge may lead to a delay or the dismissal of a request.

Most courthouses offer a self-help division to assist people who are filing motions on their own. Instructions and forms are usually available in this department, and clerks can offer assistance in completing the required information. While this department can answer basic procedural questions, they are generally not permitted to offer legal advice.

A pro se motion can be filed in a civil or criminal case, by either a defendant or petitioner. The most common filings of this type, however, are in cases of family law, such as a simple divorce. Litigants in small claims court may also choose to forgo the expense of hiring an attorney and represent themselves without assistance. Sometimes, incarcerated men or women file a pro se motion when they do not have representation.

Any time a pro se motion is filed, a copy of the paperwork, along with any supporting documents, should also be delivered to the other party in the case. Failing to send this information can lead to long delays or dismissal of the case. In some instances, the law requires that documents are personally delivered by a process server or local law enforcement agency. Sometimes, however, court documents can be delivered by certified or regular mail. Either way, it is best to have proof that the other party has received the same paperwork you submitted to the court.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By nextcorrea — On Jun 21, 2011

@ZsaZsa56 - You are right, its Latin. Pro se means "to act on one's own behalf." It has a broader definition, but today we associate it almost exclusively with the instance of people serving as their own lawyers.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Jun 19, 2011

Maybe I missed it. What does pro se mean? That is Latin right?

By truman12 — On Jun 18, 2011

@Ivan83 - You should check with your local public library. They probably have some books about acting as your own lawyer and the reference librarian will be able to point you toward good sources of information. Even if they do not have the materials you need on hand they can probably have them delivered to their library free or very cheap. If I was looking for information that would be the first place I would start.

By Ivan83 — On Jun 17, 2011

The article mentions that most courts have a self help division. I am trying to navigate my own case without a lawyer. I could really use some help but my local court does not have any resources to offer. Does anyone know where I can get some help or at least find some information?

By chivebasil — On Jun 16, 2011

There are huge obstacles to trying to represent yourself in court without the aid of a lawyer. The article mentions that this is possible, but in larger, higher stakes trials it can be daunting if not impossible to try and act as your own lawyer.

The legal system is incredibly complicated and it has twists and loopholes that even an experienced lawyer cannot predict. A person without legal training will face many difficulties when trying to satisfy all the demands of the court on their own.

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