For couples that have decided to separate without spending too much money on divorce, filing papers without an attorney will be a great option. This would be a solution for the spouses who agree on the main divorce issues such as division of property, child custody and support. We’ve prepared the first steps you should take to file divorce papers by yourself.
- Come to agreements
Usually, filing for divorce per se works when spouses come to agreements about the main issues of their divorce. You should discuss all the financial issues, how you are going to manage child custody and support and divide your marital property. You should be honest with each other. If you suspect that your spouse may be hiding any financial assets, perhaps filing pro se is not the best decision for you.
- Obtain the forms you need to file for divorce
Some states have websites with the forms you need to file for divorce. You can also visit clerk’s offices to take the forms in person, or you can get them by mail. These forms have the legal language in place with spaces where you should fill in the information about yourself and your spouse. The forms vary in different states, so some states may require forms that others don’t. The most commonly required forms include: petition for divorce, summons, financial affidavit, notice of hearing, settlement agreement, divorce decree.
- Prepare an Original Petition for Divorce
The pro se divorce process starts with a document called Original Petition for Divorce. This document requests the court to grant a divorce. The original petition or letter of complaint identifies the parties to the divorce and children (if you have them). The main part of the petition is the reason why you want to divorce and the relief you are asking. State your grounds without going into details, you may give details later. To find out what grounds for divorce are allowed in your state, check your state’s divorce laws. If you don’t understand anything in the petition, remember you can call your court clerk to clear up any confusion. Though clerks cannot give any legal advice, they can give you advice on completing and filing your documents.
- Filing the Petition and Pay the Court Fee
This step formally places your divorce petition on file with the court. You will be required to file the copies of the documents and the original documents as well. Ask your clerk how many of copies are necessary in advance. Also, ask the court clerk if the courts will set a date for a hearing automatically or should you request a date. This may vary in different states.
All courts charge a filing fee to file for divorce. The fee varies not only from one state to the other, but even from one court to court. Usually, the filing fee ranges from $100 to $300.
- Notify the Respondent
The Respondent is your spouse, the other party to the divorce. Typically, you have 30 to 40 days to notify your spouse. After the original petition for divorce is filed, you must serve the respondent with a copy of it. Remember that the court will require evidence that the respondent has been served. So, in some of the states, it’s the deputy sheriff or process server who files proof of service to the courthouse. But still, it’s your responsibility to make certain that the respondent is properly served. Inquire the court clerk if the sheriff or process server was able to locate your spouse.
You certainly should keep copies of all the documents related to your case. And you can also send copies of any communication with the respondent to the court clerk. Request them to be put in your divorce file.
The respondent will usually have 30 to 40 days to respond to your original petition for divorce after he or she was notified. Your spouse can state the agreement or disagreement with the information from your petition. He or she must send copies of the response to the courts and to you. The next step is not even a step – you should wait for the court to set up an interim hearing.
These five main steps can help you file for divorce without hiring attorneys and save costs. It’s a great way for the couples who decided to file for an uncontested divorce. However, please remember this article is an overview of a typical uncontested divorce process and these steps and requirements may differ depending on your filing state. Also, if you and your spouse are not able to come to agreements on important divorce issues, it’s still better to consult a mediator or an attorney before starting the divorce process.