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How to Get a Divorce without a Lawyer

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Breaking up is never easy, and getting a divorce is one of the hardest things a person can go through in life. However, many couples decide that ending their marriage is best for both parties.

If this is the case for you, have no fear – it is absolutely possible to get a divorce without hiring expensive lawyers. In this complete guide, I’ll walk you through the entire divorce process step-by-step and provide tips for doing it on your own.

Is it Really Possible to Divorce Without a Lawyer?

The first question many people have is – can I really handle this difficult legal process alone? The short answer is yes, it is possible in many states and jurisdictions to divorce without representation from an attorney.

An increasing number of couples are choosing to represent themselves in an uncontested divorce, where both parties are in agreement about the terms.

Some key points about getting a divorce without a lawyer:

Uncontested divorces where both parties are in agreement about major issues like child custody, support, and property division are the best candidates. If there are major disagreements, it’s best to consult with an attorney.

Most states have detailed instructions and forms available online to guide you through the legal process step-by-step without an attorney.

It takes diligence, paperwork skills, and the ability to understand legal terms and procedures. Be prepared to spend significant time researching the proper steps.

Consult your local court Clerk of Courts office about the requirements in your state. Many have mediation or counseling requirements that still need to be met.

Save thousands in legal fees by doing it yourself if the divorce is truly uncontested or low-conflict. Just be prepared to spend considerable time to get it right.

In the majority of straightforward cases, it is very possible for couples to divorce themselves without a lawyer if both parties are willing to work through the process cooperatively. Let’s dive into the necessary steps.

Figure out Jurisdiction and Residency Requirements

The first step is determining if you meet the jurisdiction and residency requirements in your state to file for divorce. Almost every state has guidelines around how long one or both spouses must have lived in that state or county before filing.

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For example, in my state of Colorado, one of the spouses needs to have lived here for at least 91 days before applying for divorce.

Check your state’s divorce laws online or contact your local Clerk of Courts office to verify the guidelines where you live. Not meeting these requirements is one of the biggest reasons divorces without an attorney fail.

Gather Necessary Paperwork and Information

Once you confirm eligibility, it’s time to collect all the supporting documentation you’ll need to include with the divorce petition. Make copies of everything since you’ll need to submit originals to the court. Here are the typical docs to prepare:

  • Your driver’s license or state ID as proof of residency and identity
  • Your marriage certificate
  • Tax returns from the past few years
  • Bank and investment account statements
  • Retirement plan information like 401(k) balances
  • Property deeds and titles if you own real estate
  • Vehicle titles and loans
  • Credit card balances
  • Spousal and child support information (if applicable)

Having all financials and assets well organized will make the process much smoother. You may also need to provide names and contact info for witnesses to serve papers if needed.

File for Divorce

Next, obtain the filing packet or forms required in your county. These are usually available online from your state court system website. Common forms include:

Summons – Provides notice to your spouse that divorce proceedings are beginning. Make two copies, one for you and one for your spouse.

Petition for Dissolution/Divorce – Outlines basic case info like length of marriage, children if any, assets and debts.

Financial Statements – Provide full disclosure of income, expenses, assets and debts for equitable property division.

  • Child Custody Plan (if kids under 18)
  • Child and spousal support worksheets if applicable
  • Property distribution worksheet
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Fill out all forms completely and truthfully with your signatures notarized as required. Submit to your county Clerk of Courts along with the filing fee, typically around $200-300 depending on location.

Once accepted, you’re officially in the divorce process! Make sure to file extra copies in case service on your spouse is needed.

Serve Your Spouse the Divorce Papers

If your spouse was not present when you filed, you’ll need to officially deliver or “serve” them the Summons and Petition paperwork. This notifies them of the proceedings and their right to respond. Options include:

Personal service by a sheriff, constable or process server. Usually $50-200. Certified mail return receipt requested. Keep proof of signed delivery. Email or text (if previously agreed to). Followed by regular mail. Serve at work if no other options. Leave with front desk receptionist or manager.

Most states will give the responding spouse 30 days to file a written response or counterclaim after being properly served divorce papers. Keep records of the delivery method and date to prove adequate service to the court.

Prepare for the Waiting Period

Now you simply wait out the state’s minimum waiting period before the divorce is finalized. This ranges from 60-180 days typically. The goal is providing enough time for both parties to adequately prepare and allowing for potential reconciliation attempts if desired.

During this time:

Refrain from changing addresses without updating the court and spouse. Do not change names until the final decree to avoid confusion.

File any required parenting education course completion certificates. Provide mandatory financial disclosures if stipulated in initial filings. Respond promptly to any counterclaims or discovery requests from your spouse.

With any luck, the process continues uncontested. Most divorces done without attorneys are finalized before the waiting period is even over.

Attend the Final Hearing

Assuming no major issues arise, after meeting your state’s residency and waiting period requirements you’ll receive notice of a final hearing date.

Dress appropriately and bring any final orders or parenting plans you agreed upon with your spouse.

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At the hearing the judge will:

Review the divorce petition and other key filings to ensure completeness. Ask if you and your spouse have reached full agreement on all issues.

Have you both affirm your desire for the divorce under oath. Potentially ask a few brief questions to confirm understanding.

If everything appears in order, the judge will sign off and your divorce is officially final! Request certified copies of the final decree for your records and to change official documents like vehicle registrations back to your maiden name.

Congratulations, you’ve earned yourself an uncontested divorce without an attorney!

Handle Post-Divorce Details

Though the legal process is over, a few final tasks remain:

File name change paperwork with Social Security Administration if desired. Update passwords, accounts, and insurance policies. Establish parenting schedules and communication protocols clearly in writing.

Enroll in a child support payment plan such as wage withholding if support is owed. File 2019 taxes as “single” or “head of household.” Update wills, beneficiaries on accounts and other legal documentation to reflect the divorce.

Take time processing your feelings and new normal as a single person again. Don’t hesitate to consult with friends or a counselor about coping during this transition period. You’ve accomplished an incredible feat by handling your divorce without a lawyer – be proud of yourself!

Review Summary

As you can see, getting divorced without an attorney is absolutely possible if you put in the effort to understand legal procedures, forms and requirements.

The key is choosing an uncontested case where both parties cooperate fully. With diligent research, paperwork skills and patience, you can navigate the entire divorce process on your own and save thousands in legal fees.

Focus on properly serving papers, meeting jurisdiction and waiting period rules, providing complete financial disclosures and coming to full agreements whenever possible.

Attend the final hearing prepared to verify details under oath. With the proper guidance, even complex divorces can be smoothly achieved without representation.

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