It is often recommended to look up Family law and divorce lawyers in divorce proceedings, but it is possible to file a divorce without an attorney. The assistance of an attorney is not required unless the respondent (the spouse with whom you don’t want to end your marriage) has filed an answer.
It’s recommended that people who are thinking about representing themselves in any legal matter, particularly in divorce cases, seek professional legal advice. An attorney can explain the law and your options.
1) Preparing for representation without an attorney: If you are considering representing yourself in a divorce case, it is advisable to seek out some form of free or low-cost legal assistance before you begin preparing your case. To seek assistance on your divorce case, click here!
If your income is low enough to qualify for assistance, it may be from a legal aid office or an appropriate bar association.
2) Preparing the “Request” portion of the divorce papers: To file a case without an attorney, you will need to prepare a Request For Judicial Intervention, commonly referred to as “Request for Divorce.”
It is a court form that requests the divorce and states your grounds (reasons) for the divorce. You may already know why you want to end your marriage, but if not, you should begin by determining your reason(s) for the divorce.
There are many reasons given in a divorce case. A divorce can be contested (the respondent does not agree that the reason is good enough to end your marriage) or uncontested (both parties agree, and there is no disagreement about why you want to end the marriage).
If you are filing an uncontested divorce action, it’s advisable to choose a “no-fault” ground. A divorce action based on either of the following no-fault grounds will result in an uncontested judgment:
Irreconcilable differences mean the parties have irreparable differences, and there is no chance for reconciliation.
Incurable insanity means that one spouse has a mental illness (and has been treated by a physician), and the condition makes it impossible for that person to live in marriage.
If you are filing an uncontested divorce action, one of the following fault grounds must be used:
– Abandonment (one spouse leaves for more than one year without asking the other spouse to join them and without communicating to the other spouse where they are).
– Felony conviction (one spouse is convicted of a felony and has been incarcerated for more than one year, and the other spouse was unaware of this when it occurred. The petition must be filed within five years of release from prison).
– Cruelty (one spouse treats the other spouse cruelly and without provocation). It is an emotional abuse ground.
– Adultery (one spouse has sex with someone else while married to the respondent, which was not known about before filing for divorce.) The petition must be filed within five years of when the adultery occurred. There is a six-month waiting period after the initial filing before the divorce can be finalized.
3) Preparing a declaration: You must then prepare a DEMAND FOR DECLARATION, which states that you want to end your marriage and explains why. The form requires basic information – your name, date of birth, address, social security number, spouse (name, date of birth, and SSN), children’s names, date of birth, and social security numbers if you have children together.
If you do not have any children with your spouse (or none are still minors), you can state that on the form.
The declaration form must be signed by you and your spouse (if your spouse agrees) or by you under penalty of perjury if your spouse fails to sign the form (and you do not have any children together). Extra copies of this document will need to be served on your spouse through a process server or a sheriff.
4) Preparing a Summons: A Summons tells the respondent that a case has been filed against them and to appear on a certain date at a certain time for court. The summons also includes an order which requires your spouse to appear in court with you.
You will need to prepare an original summons and at least five copies. You must sign the summons under penalty of perjury (which means that if you lie in the document, you can be punished by going to jail).
5) Preparing a petition: The Petition is the document that gives the court information about your reasons for wanting a divorce. The petition must be signed under penalty of perjury by you, the petitioner.
6) Having someone serve your spouse: You will need to have your spouse served with copies of all filed documents. There are two ways to do this: (a) personal service or (b) substituted service. Personal service means that someone over the age of eighteen will hand the documents to your spouse.
Substituted service means that someone over the age of eighteen will deliver the documents to your spouse by leaving them at their residence or employment with someone over 18 years old who lives or works there.
7) Getting copies of all filed documents: You will need to make copies of all filed documents and serve them to your spouse. A process server or sheriff can do this for you if your spouse agrees (there is an extra fee for this service).
8) Prepare a dissolution agreement: If you and your spouse agree on how to divide up property, support issues, and child custody and visitation, you may be able to prepare a written agreement that can become part of your final judgment.
A dissolution agreement is not enforceable (meaning that if one person violates the terms, the other person cannot go back to court and get it enforced) unless it has been filed with the court at least 45 days before the date of your divorce hearing.
Is it a good idea to get a divorce without a lawyer?
Yes! Only if your divorce is straightforward It is always in your best interest to consult with a lawyer before getting divorced. It may be cost-prohibitive for many people. However, there are options that you should know about if money is an issue.