Divorce can be a confusing time in your life, but filing for divorce doesn't have to be stressful, expensive, or difficult. Many states provide free do-it-yourself divorce papers online. You can download and fill them out at your own pace.
It's always advisable to have an attorney review the papers and represent you in court. Still, with do-it-yourself papers, you have the option to decide if you are comfortable doing them yourself, which reduces expenses.
When can you use do-it-yourself divorce papers?
Using DIY divorce papers is usually allowed only when the divorce is uncontested. An uncontested divorce is where you and your spouse have settled all major issues, such as child custody and spousal support. If you and your spouse have not agreed to every major issue, you have a contested divorce. Consult an attorney for a contested divorce.
Before proceeding with a do-it-yourself divorce, make sure your spouse is being honest about savings and income, and is not hiding any assets.
If you aren't sure, have been married a long time, have a lot of property, or are a victim of domestic violence, you should consult an attorney instead of filing a do-it-yourself divorce. Likewise, if you feel your agreement favors your spouse, seek help from an experienced divorce attorney.
How to start a divorce with DIY papers
Preparing for your divorce includes knowing where to get divorce forms. Check your state's court website for divorce papers. Many states have these divorce forms online, and some states will allow you to file an online divorce.
Some states' court websites give instructions for completing the forms. If you cannot find the forms online, go to the county clerk's office or the divorce court clerk and ask for an uncontested divorce packet. Many states will have free packets at the courthouse. Make sure to get the correct packet or to download the correct forms. Also note that divorce forms in many states are different for couples with and without children.
Procedure for filing DIY divorce papers
1. Know which court to file in. Ask the county clerk if you're not sure.
2. Check with the county clerk or with an attorney to see if you meet your state's residency requirements. Many states have six-month residency requirements, but some states have one year or more. Some states require living separate and apart for one year.
3. Fill out the divorce paperwork. These papers often include a summons, petition, or complaint. List the grounds for divorce according to your state's laws. All states have no-fault divorce, but each state's no-fault laws are different. While one state may allow divorce if there are irreconcilable differences for six months, another state may require that you live apart for one year with a separation agreement in place.
4. Some states allow you to fill out the forms on a computer and submit online divorce papers. Check with your county clerk or an attorney to see if you can file electronically in your state.
5. Sign the petition or complaint in the presence of a notary public.
6. Make copies of the papers. Make a copy for yourself, one for your spouse, and use the original for the court.
7. Bring the papers to the county clerk and pay the filing fee.
8. The clerk will stamp the copies and keep the original. You must take one of the copies and arrange for service upon your spouse. You cannot personally serve your spouse, however. You must use a licensed process server, a sheriff, or a constable. Check with the clerk about service requirements.
9. You or your spouse should prepare a settlement agreement shortly after you have filed the court papers. Your final divorce papers will include this agreement. You and your spouse should sign the agreement in the presence of a notary.
10. Finish the remaining divorce documents, which may include a divorce decree or judgment, financial statement, child support worksheet, non-military affidavit, notice of hearing or request to put the case on the calendar, and a few other papers. These can usually be found in the DIY divorce papers. You must notarize most of these forms.
11. Once the case is on the calendar, the court will notify you about your court date. Appear at the courthouse on that date and at the required time. Judges will not wait for you. A court appearance is usually necessary to make sure you and your spouse understand what you are agreeing to, and that neither spouse is under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. Sometimes a judge grants the divorce that day, while other times, there are a few hearings before a judge grants the divorce.
12. Once a judge grants the divorce, get certified copies of the divorce decree or judgment from the county clerk's office.