Do I find a paralegal or mediator to help me respond since I can't afford a lawyer?
A mediator can't give you legal advice.
Take a look at the following website and its links for basic information on how to proceed:
Administrative Law Lawyer
Nor is a paralegal the right person to give you legal advice--they're prohibited from doing so. A lot depends on how complex your situation is. Has there been any domestic violence or the threat of it? Are minor children involved, which will raise issues about custody, visitation, child support, etc. Do you own a house? Are there other significant assets, including but not limited to money in various accounts, that were accumulated during marriage? Are your incomes significantly different, or has one of you been a homemaker for the last several years?
If there are relatively few complications (i.e, no children, no house, no significant assets or debts, relatively equal incomes) you may be able to handle this yourself using a NOLO book on divorce. If it's a more complicated situation, you will need to hire a lawyer (many of whom will give a free consultation). Even better, if relations are still reasonably good, try to agree on a mediator instead of each of you hiring a lawyer. That way you can see if the divorce can be handled more quickly, more cheaply, and more appropriately for your situation. Good luck!
Los Angeles Superior Court offers free help to parties involved in a divorce through the Family Law Facilitator's office. The office will not give you legal advice, but will help you prepare and file your Response to the Petition for Dissolution. There is a Family Law Facilitator's Office at the courthouse in Compton (310-603-3218), Norwalk (562-807-7300) and Long Beach (562-491-6423) which may be convenient for you. Call them for information on hours/appointments, etc., or go online and review the Los Angeles Superior Court website for more information. You only have 30 days to respond to the Petition after you were served, so do not delay in filing and serving your Response.
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Disclaimer: This response is intended to be a general statement of law and should not be relied upon as legal advice. This response does not create an attorney/client relationship and does not create a right to continuing email exchanges.