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D oing a divorce yourself involves the same basic procedures in all 50 states, with the differences mainly around how the forms are titled and the timing requirements in each locale. Counties, parishes and even regions of a particular state can have local requirements that other areas do not, so it makes sense to contact your county court (often the Clerk of the Court) to determine what may be required beyond the standard forms.
In order for a divorce petition to proceed to a conclusion, there must be a paper trail. That paper trail must not only include pertinent details from the marriage, it must also demonstrate that the individual being sued (this is, after all, a suit for divorce) has been properly notified (served) and has been given adequate time to respond. All this mumbo-jumbo is covered in what you have come to know as divorce papers or divorce forms. Every petition for divorce must present them. If you are handling your divorce yourself, you will get these forms one of two ways. The conventional way is to schlep down to your local courthouse, park, find the office where the forms are kept, maybe stand in a line, and after explaining to the clerk what you intend to do, walk away with those forms without any real up-front cost. Of course, the cost to travel there, parking fees and your time is a cost you may wish to avoid. The second method is downloading the divorce forms from the internet.
An alternative to all this would be a method where you complete questions online, and a computer program automatically fills in the proper forms your state requires you submit to the court. It’s mind-numbingly easy, and once you are done, you can simply print them, get them signed and off to the courthouse you go. Our partner, Smart Legal Forms®, currently makes available this service in 16 states. They are Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
If you need help but do not live in any of these states, you have to do it the long way.
In some instances you can find FREE downloadable forms but over all availability is somewhat scarce. We detail the general procedure for filing below. The names of the forms may be slightly different in your location, but you will be able to match them to these forms. No matter where you get your forms from, you will want to get them in packages, where all the forms are included in the packages. For example, packages are available for no-fault-uncontested, with or without kids, or with or without assets. Combo packages can range in cost from $40-$75. You may not know which forms you will need or which forms will not be needed ahead of time, so getting a combo package ensures you get ALL the forms. If you download our divorce forms, you will get included the instructions on how to fill them out and complete them.
Doing a divorce yourself involves the same basic procedures in all 50 states, with the differences mainly around how the forms are titled and the timing requirements in each locale. Counties, parishes and even regions of a particular state can have local requirements that other areas do not, so it makes sense to contact your county court (often the Clerk of the Court) to discover what is required.
A Summary Dissolution is appropriate for those with no kids, no real estate, little or no property and debt and the parties agree on everything. With this process there is no hearing nor a trial.
A Regular Dissolution is for couples who have disagreements on issues. A Regular Dissolution has a hearing unless you both decline one. Your divorce will be contested or uncontested. If you file, and your spouse doesn’t respond, it is uncontested. If your spouse does respond, it is contested.
To file a summary dissolution you will have to pony up a set fee. Your location may require a second fee from your spouse. (In California, it’s $395.00 for you and if your spouse responds, it’s another $395.00). You’ll need a notary public, and if you go to where you bank, they should do notarization for free. You have to pay to have your spouse served in most states (which means you can’t serve your spouse yourself). That can cost between $35-$100.00. Call your local Sheriff’s Office or do a Google search for process servers in your area. Call the county clerk and they will usually provide guidance on who to use. Filing fees are due up front, although you may be able to get the fees waived if you qualify. Speak to the County Clerk’s Office when you file.
Call your County Clerk’s office and ask them where to bring the forms. Ask them if they require a local form in addition to the ones below.
What forms will you need?
- Petition For Divorce
- Divorce Settlement Agreement (includes the Parenting Plan you draw up)
- Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) form (if there are children from the marriage)
- Final Divorce
If your spouse agrees to uncontested, and doesn’t respond, you will be divorced in a matter of weeks. If there is a spousal reply, a hearing will get scheduled and you will have to hash out your differences. A word on the Settlement Agreement- If there is a place where the process gets bogged down, it is resolving marital settlement (asset) issues and/or child custody issues. Differences must be resolved and agreed upon to move your DIY filing to a successful conclusion (without legal fees). The issues are:
- Equitable Distribution of Assets
- Equitable Distribution of Liabilities (Debts)
- A Parenting or co-Parenting Plan
- Visitation Agreement
- Child Support
- Spousal Support (Alimony) if any
The process is not that difficult if you two are in general agreement, and there are not significant assets (or debts) to fight over. In cases where there ARE significant assets, the attorneys will fight each other over that pie, and if there is anything left, you will divide the crumbs.
If your spouse has filed for divorce (or for separation or annulment for that matter), you must be notified in a court-approved manner, depending upon your state laws. You can be served notice by a process server, someone from a local police department (most often the Sheriff’s Dept.) or a person not connected to you both or this case. Few states allow your spouse to do the service of the notice to you.
You will be given a deadline in which you must respond to the court who is hearing the case. Your response must be writing. The time allowed for responses vary from state to state, ranging from 20 days to 45 days. If you are out of state from where the case has been filed, you will likely be allowed more time to respond.
All time frames and deadlines will be included in the petition that you were served with. The petition will give you your options, so read carefully. NOT responding is generally a bad idea. In some states, if you have created agreements with your spouse that have been notarized, you can forego the response. Be absolutely certain what rights you may give up by not responding by speaking with a lawyer.
Want to file for divorce but cannot locate your spouse? Each state has its own rules for making a concerted effort to find him or her. Read what to do if you cannot find your spouse and want to serve him/her divorce papers.
You must read the petition very carefully, and if you find statements or requests by your spouse that you disagree with, you must dispute (contest) them in your response. In most situations in most states, if you fail to respond within the allotted time frame, you lose your right to have your voice heard during the action and you will not be given another chance to respond to the allegations in the Petition for Divorce. Your response can contain why you contest the statements and what your view of the situation is. Be brief but accurate. By contesting any portion of the claims within the allotted time frame, you can expect the court to schedule a hearing in an attempt to resolve the differences. The court will schedule a hearing and notify you by mail.
If you have children from the marriage, you will be required to either: 1.) create a Parenting Plan with your spouse, 2.) create a plan by yourself, or 3.) accept a parenting plan imposed by the court. We strongly suggest you try to create a plan with your spouse. If that is not possible, create one by yourself. You will be recommending where the children spend their time, with which parent, how major decisions will be made, and the conditions by which your children will be exchanged between you two and generally how they will be cared for in the two separate homes. This exercise can appear difficult without a guide to help you with all the details. Use a parenting plan template, and use an online plan. We cannot begin to recount the horror stories we have heard from divorced parents who did not use an online plan.
If your spouse refuses to cooperate on a parenting plan, and you create one yourself, the judge will use your plan unless your spouse disagrees with any of it, which will get him or her negotiating like you wanted all along. The court just may use some or all of it anyway. Submitting a plan yourself can be a power move.
Once you’ve gotten to the initial hearing, the process is pretty well explained to you. If you agree with your spouse on all issues, you will be granted a divorce after you have met any waiting period imposed by your state.
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