Can I get divorced without an attorney?

Q:

Can I get divorced without an attorney?

A:

One of the most common questions asked by divorcing couples is: “Do I really need to hire a divorce lawyer?” As with many other legal issues, you do have the option of filing for divorce “pro se” (on your own without legal help). Whether you should file on your own, however, is a much more complicated question and often depends on the complexity of the divorce and whether you and your spouse can amicably work together. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at when a pro se divorce may be possible.

Completing a Simple Divorce on Your Own

Most legal experts suggest only filing for divorce on your own if you have no property or debt, you have no children, you have been married for a short time, and you are not requesting any type of spousal support.

Other legal experts suggest pro se divorce may also be possible even if you have children and property—if you and your spouse can agree on all the major divorce issues, especially child custody and child support.

Do you have the time to devote to understanding divorce law?

However, the decision to hire a lawyer is not only about the complexity of the divorce. Another issue to consider if you do not want to hire a divorce lawyer is whether you have the time to research and understand your state’s divorce laws. This will include having the time and understanding to follow your state's legal procedures, filling out and submitting the proper court documents, and attending all of the necessary court appearances.

Before making the decision about whether to hire a lawyer, you need to consider the time and effort it will take to do it on your own. It’s not only about whether you and your spouse can agree; you may also actually save time and money by having a lawyer do the work for you.

Steps to Filing a Divorce on Your Own

If after researching divorce laws in your state, reviewing the time you have to devote to the divorce process, and analyzing your own situation, you decide you want to file a pro se divorce, you need to understand the steps to take:

  1. First, you will need to find the court that has jurisdiction over your divorce case. For example, in Texas, this will be the family court in the county where you or your spouse have lived for the last 90 days.
  2. Next, you can go to the court and talk to the clerk. Find out what documents are required and the residency requirements. For example, in Texas, you or your spouse must live in Texas for six months before the state is considered to have jurisdiction over your case. Other states have different residency requirements.
  3. Next, you will need to complete the necessary legal documents, file them with the court, and pay the necessary court fees. You must also notify your spouse that you have filed for divorce. Make sure to follow the legal process in your state for serving or mailing the documents to your spouse.
  4. After your spouse responds, you will have time to meet with them and discuss the divorce issues such as distribution of marital property, spousal support, child support and child custody. You will also have to prepare a final decree of divorce, which formalizes the decisions that you and your spouse have made.
  5. Finally, you will need to contact the court and schedule a preliminary date to have the agreement reviewed, and schedule a hearing for the judge to review and sign the divorce decree.

When will you definitely need to hire a lawyer?

As mentioned above, there are times when it is possible to file divorce without hiring a divorce lawyer. There are, however, times when a pro se divorce is not a good idea. For example, legal experts suggest that you will definitely want a lawyer if your spouse is manipulative, hiding assets from you, transferring money out of your accounts, threatening to take your children from you, and so forth. A lawyer may also be needed if there is property to divide, if either party is requesting spousal support, or when you have children.

Mediation May Be a Good Alternative

The good news is that there are alternatives to hiring a lawyer and spending thousands of dollars in legal fees. You may also have options if you have already started the divorce process but then decided that you need help.

For example, mediation is a popular, non-contentious divorce alternative used by couples who want to work together but need extra help resolving certain divorce issues. It’s not unusual for couples to agree on property distribution yet have difficulty coming to a consensus on a child visitation schedule. Mediation allows an objective third party to help resolve issues.

Bottom line: You can file for divorce without a lawyer, but this is not recommended unless you have a very simple divorce. The good news, however, is that there are several options. In fact, there are other less expensive solutions even if both you and your spouse cannot afford to hire your own lawyer.

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Written by Justipedia Staff
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Whether you're facing a legal issue or just seeking information, Justipedia aims to be your most trusted resource for legal information on the Web. With the help of legal professionals across the country, we put the law in plain language to help answer your top legal questions.

Justipedia was founded by Internet veterans Cory Janssen and Mitchell Allen. Janssen founded Investopedia.com and grew it one of the largest investing sites on the Web. Allen is an author, speaker and the founder of LeadRival, the leading provider of pay-per-action advertising in consumer legal services.

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