How To Get a Divorce Without a Lawyer

Shelly Bohorquez  | 

Getting a divorce is unpleasant by nature, but the high costs and fees associated with lawyers and litigation can make this bad experience even worse. However, if your relationship with your spouse is uncomplicated and you’re willing to do all of the research and paperwork, you may be able to avoid hiring a divorce lawyer.

Can You Get a Divorce Without a Lawyer?

The short answer is: yes, you can. Divorcees can do everything from filing divorce papers and serving their spouses, to settling and ending the marriage all without an attorney; filing for divorce can even be done online. However, whether or not you should do this can be a more complicated question.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Divorce?

Although it may be tempting to get a divorce without a lawyer in order to avoid that portion of divorce fees, it may not be the best option. Whether or not you should hire a lawyer depends on a lot of details. Ultimately, if you are at all uncertain about being able to separate amicably, or unsure you’ll be able to properly fill out all of the paperwork in order to file for divorce, hiring a lawyer may actually save you money in the long run.

  • Requesting alimony or child support: If you’re hoping to receive some kind of alimony or child support from your spouse, you will very likely need a lawyer. The details of alimony require discussion with a professional in regards to the practicality of the request and your spouse’s ability to pay.
  • Custody of children: If situations arose in your marriage that cause you to doubt your spouse’s ability to care for the children, it will be crucial to get a divorce lawyer, as custody battles can be extremely complicated and difficult.
  • History of abuse: If your marriage is ending due to substance abuse, physical abuse or emotional abuse on either end, the court proceedings may become more complicated. It will be easier to make a case for child custody and for property and alimony if there’s proof of abuse, but this is better handled by a legal professional.
  • Relationship with spouse: If your spouse is behaving dishonestly or being vindictive, it’s a good idea to call in a divorce lawyer for reinforcement. Divorce is complicated enough as it is, but if someone is lying throughout the negotiations, it can makes the situation more threatening and difficult to cope with.
  • Spouse hires an attorney: Whether you wanted to try to settle the divorce as amicably as possible won’t matter if your spouse hires an attorney. At that point, you will also need legal help to protect your interests and not be taken advantage of.

How To Get a Divorce Without a Lawyer

If you’re unaffected by the circumstances above and committed to divorcing without the help of a legal representation, the following steps will take you through the divorce process.

Discuss Getting a Divorce With Your Spouse

The only way to leave lawyers out of divorce is to work with your spouse to come to solutions. You cannot spring a divorce on your spouse if you aren’t planning on having legal representation, as this approach does not condone good communication or the ability to work together. You will need to establish a healthy relationship with your spouse throughout the divorce in order for both parties to be willing to compromise on all matters.

Research Pro Se Divorce Together

Pro Se divorce litigation means you are representing yourself in your divorce case. Again, this only works in uncontested divorces, and is much easier if you don’t have children or marital assets. Even if you have children, as long as you agree completely on the custody arrangement, a Pro Se divorce is still possible. Although you will likely have some assets, you’ll need to agree on the division of anything you have accrued throughout the marriage, so know what to ask for  and work out the details with as much communication as possible. Clear and efficient communication and a willingness to negotiate is crucial to the success of this approach.

Agree To the Terms of Your Divorce

If you’ve agreed to an amicable divorce, the next step is to agree to each other’s terms. You’ll need a written agreement covering all of your assets, dependents, and other considerations, but agreeing on the fine print is often where matters get heated. Deciding who will remain with possessions that are cherished by both can be a difficult process, especially if many sentimental belongings were acquired throughout the marriage. While this process is difficult, it’s totally possible as long as there is give-and-take from both parties. However, if you’re hoping to divorce your husband and get everything, you will definitely need some legal assistance.

File Divorce Paperwork

If you are taking a team approach to the divorce, you should not need a lawyer to officially begin the process. Divorce forms vary from state to state but are generally pretty straightforward, although it’s important that you understand every file, and fill them out correctly, as doing this incorrectly can delay the divorce process. You will need a summons, a divorce petition and a divorce decree to start the process, along with any additional paperwork required from your state. The divorce petition form is the most important of these, where you will need to include that you meet the residency requirements, and detail the dates of your marriage, your grounds for divorce, the children of the marriage, declarations about property and debts, and officially request for a divorce.

Attend Your Divorce Hearing or Mediation

After filing for divorce, you will have a scheduled court hearing in which you and your spouse meet in a courtroom to ask the judge to sign off on your divorce decree, which should be filled out in full before the hearing. If the divorce is contested, the judge will take this time to hear from both parties about the terms on which you disagree, so you’ll need to be prepared with any evidence that will help your case.

However, before attending the court hearing, you have the option to attend a mediation meeting with your spouse. These meetings involve a third party that assists in negotiating agreements to any points of contention. Mediation offers an alternative to the divorce hearing, because if you and your spouse are both able to resolve all issues with the third party, there will be no need to attend a court hearing.

File Your Divorce Decree

After the hearing, you should receive the court’s judgement in the form of a divorce decree, which will detail the division of property, child custody and any kind of alimony that must be paid. If you and your spouse had an uncontested divorce, the decree should simply be signed off by the judge in accordance to your agreed arrangement from the mediation. Once you receive the divorce decree, it will need to be filed to make the divorce official.

Follow the Terms and Agreements of Your Divorce Decree

Once your divorce is finalized, you’ll need to follow the terms and agreements of your divorce decree. Even if you managed to go through the entire process without hiring a lawyer, you can bet one will get involved if you violate terms, stop paying alimony or don’t distribute assets as agreed upon. You should consider your ability to follow through while going through the mediation process because once your divorce is finalized, the terms are non-negotiable.

Divorce is a complex legal process, and although it can be done without a lawyer, a small amount of legal help can go a long way in saving you time and possible even money. There are many steps that must be completed as part of the divorce process, and even if you and your spouse are on good terms, it can be difficult to agree on everything. If you’re confident in your ability to get divorced without a lawyer, following each of these steps attentively can help the process go smoothly and save you thousands of dollars in lawyer fees.


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This post was updated August 8, 2018. It was originally published August 8, 2018.