How To File for Divorce Online
You can do just about anything online these days, including filing for divorce. There are a couple of different ways to file for divorce online, and while this is typically only an option in uncontested divorces, filing online can make the extensive process of legally separating from your spouse a little easier.
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Can You File for Divorce Online?
Depending on the state laws where you live, it should be relatively easy to find the appropriate forms for you to fill out to initiate divorce proceedings. Some jurisdictions may allow you to fill them out digitally and submit them instantly, while others may only allow you to print them off, but require you to fill them out manually and return them to the appropriate office. However, you may be able to complete your entire divorce online.
This typically varies from county to county, and you may need to be living in the state anywhere between 6 weeks to an entire year before you can get a divorce online. Once you’re sure you meet the residency requirements, you can explore whether a third party divorce site will be best for your e-filing needs, or whether your state’s courthouse website has all the information and documents available online for you to complete the divorce yourself, or just get the process started.
Is Online Divorce Free?
Due to the filing fees and court time taken to review and finalize your application, getting divorced, even online, is never going to be 100 percent free. However, sites that help you manage the entire process will adjust varying costs depending on what you need for your specific situation. In some cases there are options or supplementary resources to help you cover some of the fees, but it’s still going to cost you a few hundred dollars, depending on whether you use a third party to file online.
Determine What Kind of Divorce You Will Have
Similar to filing for divorce at the courthouse, the ease of filing online will largely be determined by the type of divorce you are getting. If it’s contested, it will be difficult to get through the divorce process without a lawyer. Whether the disagreement is over child custody, alimony, or the liquidation of assets, divorce becomes more complicated when your spouse is unwilling to cooperate or negotiate.
There will be a lot of mediation needed, and you will potentially need to go to court to get everything you need from your divorce, especially if you need to prove a case for child custody or other child or spousal support terms. However, if the divorce is uncontested and involves a minimum number of shared assets, filing online may make the divorce a very quick and smooth process.
If the divorce is contested but involves a minimal amount of shared assets, you may be able to complete at least a good portion of it online, and can potentially go through a third party for an online mediation process. If you and your spouse are filing online to save money, you’ll need to work together to come to arrangements and agreements on custody, child support, visitation, alimony, division of assets and division of debt. Make sure you know what to ask for and come to solid agreements on these topics, as changing divorce decree arrangements after they’ve been finalized can be complicated, and may end up costing you more in the long run.
Decide What Site To Use
There are a few ways to e-file your divorce; you can go through a third party who will tell you exactly what you need to do, how to do it, and will offer legal consultations and mediation assistance, or you can use the state courthouse website resources and do the research yourself. Again, this will largely depend on how complicated you expect your case to be and how much work you’re willing to put in to save on divorce costs.
To file online, you can start by using the search function on your state’s website to search for divorce or divorce forms. If the state site has a self help or self service link, use this to locate divorce forms. You can also search “e-filing” or look for a family law section that will likely contain a divorce section that will explain what forms you are able to complete online. Many courts only make e-filing available to attorneys in order to avoid receiving incorrect paperwork, in which case you may need to go through a third party site to process your divorce online.
There are websites dedicated to online divorces that incorporate all of the e-filing processes, extensive mediation services and even legal consultations. These websites are run by attorneys to meet the demand for online divorce services, and you will, therefore, be paying for an attorney’s time with these. However, if your divorce is complicated in any way, this may be the way to go to ensure your paperwork is filled out properly and you don’t prolong the divorce process by providing incorrect or insufficient information.
Fill Out the Necessary Paperwork
Getting a divorce consists almost entirely of filling out paperwork. Whether you have selected a third party to help you file, or you are filing it yourself through the state courthouse website, you will need to fill out the standard divorce forms that provide the court with all of you and your spouse’s personal information. If you are filing online by yourself, it may help to contact your state clerk to ensure you can get all of the necessary paperwork, and to find out what part of the process you may not be able to complete online.
The process usually begins with a petition for divorce that is filled out by one spouse and served to the other, even if you are filing together. This petition is a formal request to the court to end your marriage, and includes information about you, your spouse, and your marriage, as well as confirmation that you’ve resided in your state for the required time necessary to file for divorce there. If you have children, it should include their full names and birth dates as well.
Once your petition is filed and served to your spouse, you will need to complete the rest of the paperwork. This typically includes a financial affidavit, to fully disclose to the court your financial situation and determine how you and your spouse’s assets and debts will be divided. You will also need a settlement agreement, that typically comes after mediation with your spouse, and a custody agreement if you have children.
Submit Your Paperwork to the Clerk or Courthouse
If your state allows you to submit all of the files online, you will simply need to finish e-filing the consequent paperwork to the courthouse at each step of the divorce process. However, if your state clerk does not accept e-filing for divorce, you can finish preparing the paperwork at home and drop off the files at the state courthouse once they are completed.
Negotiate a Divorce Agreement
Depending on your state, you may be able to submit your divorce agreement online and avoid a hearing entirely. This will depend on the amount of mediation necessary and whether or not an online third-party mediation service is sufficient for you and your spouse to agree on the divorce arrangements. If you’re unable to come to an agreement, you may need a divorce attorney to help you negotiate a divorce agreement.
Divorce can be a long process that involves several visits to the courthouse, which makes online filing appealing to individuals who are not partial to these kinds of errands. Although filing for divorce will likely cost hundreds of dollars regardless of whether it is done online or not, you can reduce the overall cost of divorce by working with your spouse to file online and avoid long hours with attorneys. By filing for divorce online, you can complete the paperwork in the comfort of your own home and relieve some of the pressure of an already stressful and emotionally draining process.
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This post was updated September 17, 2018. It was originally published August 14, 2018.