Getting a Divorce Without a Lawyer
Getting a divorce without a lawyer is relatively easy, if your case isn’t complicated or if the divorce is uncontested. In Arizona, for example, residents can use computers at their local courthouse to get divorce forms. In other states, the court clerk has the documents you need to file for divorce, obtain custody and support, and arrange parental visitation.
Not a good idea if…
Just because you can represent yourself, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Before deciding to represent yourself in a divorce, you need to consider several factors. Do it yourself divorces are usually not a good idea if…
You and your spouse are parents. Because issues of child custody and support can be complicated, it’s best to get professional advice about the laws in your state that protect your children’s interests.
Significant assets need to be divided, such as an inheritance, a business, or pension benefits.
You and your spouse own your home or other real estate.
You have been married for a long time.
You have been unemployed for years.
You need professional help to determine how much support you should receive and how long it should continue.
You have serious health problems that require expensive medical treatment.
You and your spouse can’t agree on the division of property.
Your spouse has hired a lawyer to contest the divorce.
Divorce without a Lawyer
If you decide that you can get a divorce without a lawyer, follow these relatively simple steps:
You and your spouse should write and sign an agreement stating how your property and other assets will be divided; this will become part of your divorce decree.
Cancel all credit cards or accounts that you and your spouse hold jointly, and have new cards issued or new accounts opened only in your name. Even though your spouse may agree to pay bills on joint accounts, you can still be held liable if he or she doesn’t follow through by making payments.
Fill out the appropriate summons and complaint forms and file them in court. There is a filing fee, usually less than $100. You will need to hire a process server to have them delivered to your spouse. Your spouse will file a document known as an answer, responding to your complaint. If he or she has decided not to contest the divorce, the answer will essentially be consent to dissolve the marriage.
The court will then review the papers you have filed and decide whether the agreement you and your spouse have reached is a fair one. State courts often require that you appear in court to verify the facts under oath.
Once the court has approved your agreement, a judgment will be entered into the court record and you will be granted a divorce decree. Keep in mind, however, that although you and your spouse are divorced, you may not be free to remarry immediately. Some states require a waiting period of several weeks to several months before your divorce decree becomes final.
Free at Last
Once your divorce has been granted, notify creditors and companies you do business with that you are no longer married. If you are a woman and have resumed using your maiden name or taken a new last name, you will need to notify several agencies, including…
The Social Security Administration to ensure that your earnings record continues to be credited accurately
The Internal Revenue Service and the department of revenue in your state
The US Postal Service
The Department of Motor Vehicles
All major credit-reporting agencies
Getting a divorce without a lawyer is its own reward. While the paperwork may be more than tedious, you have the satisfaction of achieving what seems to be a monumental and critical task at the lowest possible price.