People shoot themselves in the face in court all the time. Most of them are pro se, but every so often I'll see an attorney fumble the ball in front of the judge. The one area, however, you must understand is how to properly open a case.
Why so important? Simple, if you can't open it properly, you automatically lose. Let me explain:
The court needs specific proof that the other side knows about the lawsuit. So specific that you must do it don't do it in a specified manner, the court could be forced to table your lawsuit no matter how "right" you are. First, opening the case properly requires you to serve the party you want to drag into court.
Here's what proper service ISN'T:
1) Emailing your ex to tell him/her they have court
2) Mailing it to them
3) Sending it certified mail (Except small claims)
4) Faxing it.
5) Texting it.
6) Facebooking it.
You get the idea. Generally in 99.9% of most cases where you are doing it yourself, you will rely on the Sherrif. Now some can serve, some can't find the back of their hand. Varies by county. As a practice, I always use a special process server. In either event, the "server" will serve the papers that have been filed with the court and send you an affidavit of service - or in some counties, it's automatically filed (Always check your counties local rules). Now that they've been served, and proof of service has been filed with the court, you've opened your case.
But what papers do you need? Well, for family law you need at least 2 things. The first is a summons, the second is a complaint (petition for dissolution of marriage, petition for support, etc). Copies need to be filed with the court. If it's a divorce, you also need to file a certificate of dissolution, eventually (Some counties require it at filing, some wait until the actual prove-up).
Where do you get these papers? Well for the summons, many counties have a pro-forma/fill in the blank summons. Cook County for example, is one such place. HOWEVER the actual complaint has to be hand-drafted. Do it right, you are all set. Do it incorrectly, and you could be sent packing.
But that's a topic for another guide.