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Do-It-Yourself Divorce, Is It For You?

If you answer YES to all of the following questions, then a do-it-yourself divorce may work for you.
  • Have you and your spouse essentially agreed that you both wish to end your marriage and go your separate ways in peace?

  • Do you feel that you and your spouse can cooperate enough to come to some form of fair agreement regarding the division of all your property and bills?

  • If you have children, do you feel certain that you and your spouse can reach a fair and reasonable agreement regarding child custody, visitation, and child support?

  • Are you able to firmly state your wishes to your spouse and not be intimidated by him or her and has your marriage been totally free of spouse or child abuse?

  • Are you or your spouse NOT in active military service?

  • Have no previous legal proceedings been instituted for a divorce, legal separation, child custody, or domestic violence between you and your spouse?

  • If you have been married for over 5 years, are you presently employed or capable of supporting yourself?

If any of the answers to the previous questions are NO, then it is highly advisable to seek the aid of an attorney. Competent low-cost legal aid is often available from local Legal Aid Society offices or from local legal clinics. Law schools in your area may have programs that can provide free or low-cost help with simple legal matters. State Bar Associations often have low-cost legal referral services.

If during the process of attempting to settle a divorce, you or your spouse become hostile to the point of being unable to rationally discuss the terms of a settlement, it is advisable to seek an attorney or mediator for assistance. In addition, if at any time during the process of attempting to do your own divorce, you become overwhelmed by the complications involved or become confused regarding your rights, it is advisable to seek the assistance of an attorney. Very importantly, if at any time your spouse filed any legal papers for a divorce outside the context of your settlement discussions or if your spouse retains an attorney, you must seek legal help immediately.

The focus of the recent changes in the divorce laws is to lessen the chances for animosity to develop between the divorcing spouses. To this end, the lawyers and judges who make up the legal system should and generally do attempt to be helpful to those who wish to represent themselves in court. However, in some counties in the United States, there may continue to be very strong resistance to allowing self-help divorces. Local judges, attorneys, and even court clerks may make the legal process much more difficult than necessary in an effort to discourage self-help law. Unfortunately, if unusually strong hostility is encountered when dealing with the local legal system on a self-help basis, there may be no realistic alternative other than obtaining a lawyer. You should be able to find an attorney who will use the material that you have already prepared and work on an hourly basis for simply filing the papers and appearing in court with you. This will still be far more economical than having a lawyer do all of the work involved.

The preceding information and questionnaire were excerpted from Divorce Yourself, The National No-Fault Divorce Kit by Daniel Sitarz, Attorney-at-Law.

More Tips

The following are some additional tips for those who decide to handle their own divorce without the assistance of a lawyer:

  • There are two sets of rules you must follow when filing for a divorce. The first is state and the second is local. You can find a copy of the state rules at any law library and at some public libraries. Your courthouse should have a copy of their local rules.

  • Even if you settle your divorce, either you or your spouse will have to file a petition with the court. A petition is a legal document set out in numbered paragraphs. The statements in the paragraph are called allegations or averments. There are specific allegations that must be made in the petition to give the court jurisdiction over you, your spouse, your children, your property and your divorce. Information about what must be in a petition can be found in your state's domestic relations laws.

  • Along with the petition, you will have to file other documents that are required by state or local laws, rules, or practices. For example, when you file for a divorce in St. Louis County, Missouri, you must file a Petition, a Statement of Income and Expense, a Statement of Property, a Filing Cover Sheet, a Basic Parenting Plan if you have children, a completed Child Support Chart, a formal notice about the mandatory Parent Education Program, a formal notice about using mediation services, a Certificate of Dissolution, Service Instructions if they aren't stated on the Petition, and pay a filing fee of about $230.00 to the Circuit Clerk.

  • Many of the courts have preprinted forms that you can use for some or all of the documents that are required when you file for a divorce. Ask the circuit clerk's office or the family court clerk's office for a list of the documents you will need to file and for any preprinted forms that you will need.

  • Once your divorce is filed and your spouse has responded to the petition, ask the clerk how you set your divorce for a hearing by the judge. Generally, this involves waiting for a prescribed period of time pursuant to your state's law, then obtaining a court date from either the judge's clerk or from a family court clerk for a non contested hearing. Once you have the date and time, you file a document called a Notice of Hearing in the court file. When the date rolls around you need to show up on time and ready to get divorced.

  • Some courts can grant a divorce by Affidavit so your spouse won't have to appear in court. Ask the court clerk if this is possible and if there is a preprinted form you can use, along with any instructions for filling out the form.

  • At your divorce hearing, you will need to have all of your papers ready for the court and be prepared to answer certain questions. The answers you provide to these questions give the judge the authority to either grant or deny your divorce. Some of the papers you will need to have ready are especially prepared just for the hearing. Several days before the day or your hearing, ask the judge's clerk what documents you are required to bring to the hearing. Again, many of these documents may be on preprinted forms that you can get from the courthouse. Examples are: court reporter form and an income withholding form.

  • One of the documents the judge will need is called a judgment or a decree. If your courthouse doesn't use preprinted forms for this, ask the family law clerk for a sample of a judgment or a decree. If one is available, use the sample to prepare your divorce judgment or decree. If one isn't available, go to the law library and look for a set of books that contain forms and information about your state's practice and procedure. The librarian can help you find the book where you might find a sample of a divorce judgment or decree.

  • Even if you and your spouse have agreed to everything, a judge can still refuse to let you get divorced if he or she believes that your divorce settlement is unfair, inequitable, not in the best interests of your children, or not unconscionable.

  • After the divorce is granted, the judge will sign the divorce judgment or decree. You might not get an "official copy" at the time of the hearing so be sure to ask for a photocopy or take extra copies to the hearing. Ask the clerk when and how you can obtain a "certified copy" of the divorce judgment.

  • Your next step is to put into effect the terms of your settlement agreement.

For more comprehensive do-it-yourself information and sample forms you can use to do your own divorce in any of the 50 states and the District of Columbia see Divorce Yourself, The National No-Fault Divorce Kit.

Excerpts of Divorce Yourself are with permission from Daniel Sitarz and Nova Publishing.

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The author and publisher of this article have done their best to give you useful and accurate information. This article does not replace the advice you should get from a lawyer, accountant or other professional if the content of the article involves an issue you are facing. Divorce laws vary from state-to-state and change from time-to-time. In addition, it is a very fact-specific area of the law, meaning that the particular facts of your marriage and divorce, as well as other external factors may determine how the law is applied in your situation. Always consult with a qualified professional before making any decisions about the issues described in this article. Thank you.

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