How to Get a Divorce without a Lawyer
- 1. Does DIY Divorce Apply for Me?
- 2. Determine whether your divorce is contested or uncontested
- 3. Check your state's requirements for filing
- 4. Complete the no-fault divorce forms
- 5. Consider Mediation
- 6. Children During and After Legal Proceedings
- 7. Don't Overlook Tax Issues
- 8. Avoid DIY if There is Anger or Deception
- 9. Start with Your County Clerk
- 10. Check out Legal Document Preparers
- 11. Online Divorce Services
- 12. Lawyers Have Their Advantages
- 13. Talk to Some Lawyers First
- 14. Be Cautious If You're in a Same-Sex Marriage
- 15. What if my divorce is contested?
As you file your divorce, you will have two options.
You can petition the court to grant you a divorce on a fault basis. In this case, you would need to prove that your spouse had behaved in a manner that led to the breakdown of your marriage. Possible wrongdoings include adultery, physical & emotional abuse, and abandonment. Such cases involve investigations and defenses, which can drag on for years. However, where child custody and property division are key issues in the divorce process, fault divorces are necessary.
The second option is a no-fault divorce where you and your spouse agree to part ways amicably. You can cite irreconcilable differences or the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage. The court does not dig into the causes further, and you do not need to provide evidence against each other. Once you file, you separate from each other for a predetermined period, after which you can get divorced. It's less time-consuming and more cost-effective compared to a fault divorce. Please note that seventeen states are currently no-fault states and do not allow you to file fault divorces.
This guide will discuss how you and your spouse can navigate no-fault divorces without relying on an attorney. We all know that legal fees can be exorbitant and would like to save you this hassle. Here's what you need to know:
Does DIY Divorce Apply for Me?
As much as it would be ideal for everyone to avoid hiring lawyers, it does not always work out this way. You and your spouse can consider the DIY option if:
- You have both agreed on pertinent issues. These include alimony, child custody, and property division arrangements. If you have a tug of war on some of these issues, the DIY method may not be the best for you.
- You have gone through your financial records and understand your assets and liabilities. It should be clear how and when you will divide these. Suppose your spouse is sketchy about their assets; this may be a red flag.
- You have agreed on a compromise that works for both of you. If you feel that you are getting a raw deal and cannot get your spouse to give an inch, you may need some help.
Does everything seem good so far?
Determine whether your divorce is contested or uncontested
Suppose you and your spouse have sat down and are on the same page about all the divorce details; your divorce is uncontested. However, it does not end here. You might be on the same page, and once you serve them with papers, they file an answer with the court, which reverts your divorce to contested. A contested divorce is one where you disagree with your spouse on crucial details about the divorce. For example, you may want more visitation rights to your children, yet your spouse won't budge.
Check your state's requirements for filing
In most states, you will need to legally separate from your spouse for at least six months before you can go through with the divorce. It allows you enough time to cool down, assess the situation and decide if you want to get a divorce. That's but one example of a state requirement.
Find out what applies in your case. It will ensure that you do not get to the finish line and find some surprises waiting for you. Also, look into the residency requirements and what proof the state will require.
Complete the no-fault divorce forms
It's time to get the ball rolling by filling the official no-fault divorce paperwork. In it, you will also petition the court to grant you a divorce, provided you meet the stipulated requirements. You can easily get the paperwork by contacting the local county clerk.
At this time, you should also look into how much the filing will cost. The local court will have a breakdown of all the filing fees. You can use this information to plan months ahead as you legally separate in preparation for the divorce.
Please note that once you sign the divorce forms and include all pertinent information, your spouse should get a copy of these. To do this, you will need to serve your spouse officially. Your local court can help you arrange who will serve your spouse and where this will happen. The response can go either way. Your spouse can agree to the divorce or can refuse it. Their response does not affect the court action as it will still proceed. However, it affects how smooth the journey ahead will be and if you will need to litigate. It's important to be on the same page before serving your spouse to avoid any curveballs.
As you discuss some issues such as property division, emotions are likely to get in the way. You might feel like getting a lawyer involved is your best chance at getting a fair deal. However, it's not the best option at this point. Instead, consider going to mediation. Mediators are professionals who understand how to get to the root of the problem by helping you and your spouse communicate. You will get to understand your spouse's point of view, and they will see yours. Sometimes, the communication barrier owes to walls built during the marriage. Now may be the time to break them down as they affect your future. Consider getting counseling as you navigate property, children, and other emotional aspects of the divorce.
Children During and After Legal Proceedings
Here is a challenging discussion–who will have access to the children and why?
Sometimes, couples cannot agree on visitation and custody rights. After all, this is a highly sensitive issue that can pit you against your spouse.
If you find that you're at a dead-end, consider going to mediation to reach an agreement. It's common for spouses to use children as weapons during divorces. If you find that one of you is guilty of this, you can deal with the issue before it trickles down to the children.
If the mediator cannot get you to agree on the best course of action, try involving a judge. It is yet another neutral party who will now look at what's best for the children. The judge can create a schedule that works for you and the children by offering equal rights to both of you. That should be good enough in most cases.
However, where there is a history of child or spousal abuse, more intervention will be necessary.
First, you will need to get a child protection order to keep the child safe from the abusive spouse. It helps if you have records of previous instances of abuse. Whether it's an email, letter, photograph, video, or even a witness account, this information will affect the judge's ruling.
Secondly, the judge will decide if the abusive spouse can have access to the children and when this can happen.
Please note that you are better off using a mediator or a counselor unless abuse is a concern. Litigation takes time and costs money, whereas solving child custody disputes outside the court is much cheaper. It's worth some consideration if you disagree on child custody arrangements.
Don't Overlook Tax Issues
With no more joint accounts and joint taxes, it's time to think about your financial future. An accountant, tax preparer, or financial advisor can help you navigate this murky area. For example, while you may not be legally married anymore, you may still be liable to pay your spouse's federal income tax. It is one of the potential tax issues you may face even after finalizing your divorce. You can go through the IRS official website to get a clue of what awaits you.
Avoid DIY if There is Anger or Deception
Getting a DIY divorce may not be for you if your spouse harbors anger towards you. For example, if the divorce was your idea and they are going along with it for the sake, they might sabotage you. If you feel that your spouse is not fully cooperating and could be deceiving you, consider litigation. They can hide money and can present you with false documents to hurt your efforts.
Also, if your spouse is abusive, DIY divorce is not a good idea. They can be a danger to you or even your children, and getting away from them is the best option. Assess your current situation and see if a DIY divorce is the best way to go.
Start with Your County Clerk
While you may not have legal help, you can build a solid foundation by understanding what you need to file a divorce. Luckily, you can get this information from the county clerk's office. Some counties even have online websites where you can get resources at the tap of a button. Please note that this is general information and not legal advice. If you need more insight on how to handle your case, you can always visit the county law library.
Check out Legal Document Preparers
Like with the county clerks, legal document preparers (LDPs) are there to offer you resources but not legal advice.
LDPs, also known as paralegals, prepare your paperwork for you and file it with the court. All you need is to present the information you have already agreed upon with your spouse. Details such as property division, child custody, and more will be necessary at this point. The LDP will then fill this in the form and charge you for the services. Fees range from $175 to $700, which is pretty reasonable compared to hiring an attorney. You may end up paying more if your divorce has a lot of moving parts.
Do not go for the first LDP you come across. Instead, ask around and find an LDP with excellent references. After all, you want to get your money's worth and avoid mistakes that could land you in court.
Online Divorce Services
Since almost everything is accessible online, it's plausible that you can also get your divorce online, yes?
Many companies now offer divorce paperwork filing online. They work pretty much like LDPs and collect information, fill it in and complete the paperwork.
Depending on the arrangement, they can either send the paperwork to you or straight to the court. You will pay about $200 to $500 to get the documents delivered to the court for the latter option. You can also choose to expedite the process and spend less time waiting for the delivery.
Make sure you do your due diligence and vet the services based on past customer reviews. Also, compare a few options and review the costs to see if you can save money without compromising the work's value.
Lawyers Have Their Advantages
You and your spouse may be on good terms and may have come up with an arrangement that suits both of you. However, unless you have a legal background, you may have missed some crucial aspects. On the other hand, lawyers can see what lies in the future based on your present decisions. They can project what may go wrong and can have mitigation measures in place to protect your interests. Additionally, they can keep emotions out of the process.
You and your spouse may not be in a position to leave your emotions at the door when entering a negotiation room. Your lawyer does not have vested interests and will not go on a rant or walk out when things don't go their way. You might.
Furthermore, when things get tough, you can always direct communication through your lawyer to avoid dealing with your spouse. It's vital when dealing with an abusive partner. You also need to consider hiring a lawyer when dealing with child custody issues regarding what the court may find fair.
Talk to Some Lawyers First
If you have some doubts about DIY-ing your divorce, you can run the idea by a few lawyers. Usually, lawyers will not charge you for the first consultation and will let you know what they think. From these conversations, you can assess your situation and decide if legal help is necessary.
Be Cautious If You're in a Same-Sex Marriage
While the law permits same-sex couples to divorce in all states, the rules are ever-changing. You might have a hard time understanding what presently applies to you. Hiring an attorney could be necessary if you run into some complex issues.
What if my divorce is contested?
Once you serve your spouse with the divorce paperwork, they can either agree to it or decline the petition. If they contest the divorce, it's time to start lawyering up. The road ahead is likely to be messy, and you'll need a solid team to pull through.