When Yanic Chan and Vanessa Van split up in 1995, they couldn’t afford a lawyer. So, like thousands of other people without money, they filled out the divorce paperwork themselves, with help from a friend.
In November 1997, Van went to the Riverside County Courthouse to enter a final judgment. "The clerk put the stamp on it," Van said. "I asked, ‘Everything finished?’ She said ‘Yes.’ "
Chan returned to his native Cambodia and married again. Then, in 2006, he tried to bring his new wife to this country. And that’s when Van and Chan got a nasty surprise, one that court officials fear could be awaiting thousands of other former California couples: Their divorce had not been finalized.
Driven by rising legal fees, a shortage of legal aid lawyers and a do-it-yourself philosophy, about 80% of people in California handle their own divorces, according to court officials.