A traditional court divorce can be costly and stressful, and take months to complete. In fact, in some states, it can take months even if both couples are willing to work together.
The fact is that divorce courts are overwhelmed with cases. The good news, though, is that there are ways to file for divorce without legal help, spend much less time waiting for court dates, and avoid wasting money on expensive litigation services. And while it’s true that some couples need to hire a lawyer and go to court, in many cases, couples may be able to settle their case out of court.
Am I a good candidate for a do-it-yourself divorce?
While a do-it-yourself divorce may sound like a great idea, before making the final decision about whether to hire a divorce lawyer, it’s important to realistically evaluate your situation. In fact, there are specific factors you should think about:
- One of the most important factors, for example, is whether you and your spouse agree that the divorce is necessary. If your spouse is against the idea and has vocalized their intention to fight you on every major divorce issue including spousal support, child custody and property distribution, it’s time to seek legal help. If, however, they agree that the marriage is over and you two can agree on all the major divorce issues, a DIY divorce may be a good idea.
- Next, consider whether time, expense and stress is something that you both want to eliminate. As mentioned above, divorce is costly, so if you and your spouse agree that you would rather handle the legal issues on your own and avoid expensive court costs, you may not need legal help.
- Evaluate the complexity of your divorce. No matter how amicable you and your spouse feel you can be, some divorces are simply too complex to attempt on your own. For example, if you have extremely disparate incomes, several children or a large number of assets, it's generally a good idea to seek legal help.
- Finally, determine whether each of you are willing to compromise to expedite the divorce. A DIY divorce will definitely streamline the divorce process and allow you to end your marriage more quickly and efficiently than a traditional divorce. However, it may not be the best decision if you are unable to express yourself, if you feel that you are unable to find resolutions without professional help, or if compromising with your spouse might jeopardize your ability to get what you want or need.
How to End Your Divorce Without a Lawyer
If, after evaluating all the factors above, you both still believe that you are strong candidates for a DIY divorce, it’s time to take a hard look at the divorce process, including your state’s procedural laws. All states allow couples to file for divorce on no-fault grounds, which means that you won't have to prove that your spouse was at fault for the divorce. However, you'll still have to understand the laws of your state.
- First, you'll need to identify the family court that has jurisdiction over your case. States will also have a requirement that you or your spouse reside in the state for a certain number of days prior to filing the case. For example, the State of Texas requires that you or your spouse live in the state for at least six months prior to filing the divorce petition. Other states have different residency requirements that must be met.
- Next, determine what forms must be completed for the divorce. Generally, the forms include the divorce petition and information about your property, your children and the grounds for filing the divorce. Not only will the forms need to be submitted to the appropriate court, but your spouse will also need to be notified about the divorce. Talk to the court about the legal means to do this in your state (i.e., hand delivery, hiring a process server, or by certified mail).
- After the case has begun and your spouse has been served, you will have to provide information to the court about your case. States will have specific documents that must be completed. For example, in California, you will have to complete the Declaration of Disclosure, the Income and Expense Declaration (or the Financial Statement), the Schedule of Assets and Debts, and the Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure. Additional supporting documentation such as pay stubs and tax returns must also be attached. Other states will have different form requirements. Obviously, during this time, you'll also need to meet with your spouse to discuss financial issues such as the distribution of marital property, spousal support, child support and child custody.
- Next, you and your spouse must prepare a document to finalize the agreements that you have made. In some cases, you may be required to have a court official review the agreement prior to your divorce hearing. In other cases, however, you may simply need to schedule a final hearing before your family court judge.
- Finally, attend the hearing and allow the judge to review and sign the divorce decree.
Bottom line: Some divorces can be done on your own without legal help. If you and your spouse are good candidates for a DIY divorce, you can save a great deal of time and money.