The Ultimate Guide to a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Divorce

do it yourself divorce

It’s no secret that there’s a lot of time, stress, and costs associated with divorce.  However, if you and your spouse can approach divorce as a problem to be solved instead of a battle to be won, you may find that a do-it-yourself divorce is a viable option for ending your marriage.

Here’s what you need to know.

Is Do-It-Yourself Divorce Right for You?

In some cases, yes.

But DIY divorce isn’t right for everybody.  In fact, if you try to go it alone, you could be making a big mistake and only creating a worse situation for yourself.

You’re a good candidate for a DIY divorce if:

  • You and your spouse have an open line of communication.
  • There is a reasonable amount of trust between you and your spouse.  Of course, your trust level won’t be at 100%, or you’d probably still be married and not contemplating divorce.
  • You both agree to compromise.  That means you need to know what’s important to you, and what you’re willing to concede in the process.
  • You want to save money.  This could be either because you don’t have it or don’t want to waste it on divorce related costs such as hiring a law firm to represent you.
  • You have the right temperament to go through a DIY alone.  Some people can remain calm.  Others are easily rattled.  Understand how much anxiety and conflict you can stand and then decide whether the DIY route is right for you.  For some people divorce attorneys are an excellent investment.
  • You are able to come to an agreement about how health insurance will be provided going forward.
  • You don’t want to go to court.  Many times, in a DIY divorce you either don’t have to appear at all or you’ll only need to attend a short confirmatory hearing.  At other times, only one spouse may be required to attend.
  • You are comfortable with some legal processes, or you know somebody who will hold your hand if you’re not sure what the implications are.
  • You are able to work through typically contentious issues such as child custody and support, a division of assets, and other hot button issues.
  • You have limited assets that need to be divided.  Large and complicated amounts of assets can lead to large and complicated disputes.
  • Know the value of the assets you have.  This may require additional assistance to help accurately define how much your assets are worth.  This can be especially true for retirement fund accounts, stocks and bonds, real estate, and other big ticket items.
  • You and your spouse are transparent.  If you suspect a spouse is hiding money or other assets, or lying about something you know you can prove otherwise, then take steps to protect your interests.
  • You want to move quicker through your divorce. When you remove barriers of conflict, either by arguing or by retaining attorneys, you slow the process down considerably.
  • Your spouse poses no physical danger to you.  If there is a history of domestic abuse, consider hiring someone to protect your legal rights and your physical wellbeing.
  • You’re flexible, meaning that if your DIY efforts don’t work out, you’re okay with going through mediation, collaborative divorce, or a fully contested divorce.

When Should You Avoid Doing Your Own Divorce?

There are simply some divorces that require added protection and expertise that attorneys, mediators, financial professionals, and others can provide.

Do not consider a DIY divorce if:

  • You and your spouse have zero trust between each other.
  • You and your spouse are angry and looking to punish each other through the divorce process.
  • You can’t separate facts from your anger or how the law works.
  • You have strong disagreements regarding child custody.  This is the most divisive issue for most couples where minor children are involved.  This is part of a larger issue of being able to work out an agreeable parenting plan.
  • You can’t decide which spouse should either retain ownership or should live in the family home.
  • You have large and diverse assets.  Many of these assets are likely to have fluctuating values, and affixing a fair value can be a daunting and complicated task.  Often, a divorce financial planning professional, divorce attorney, or a divorce mediator will need to assist you.
  • You are a business owner and your spouse may or may not be entitled to the business assets.
  • Your spouse has the potential to be violent or physically abusive.
  • You don’t fully understand the tax implications of your divorce.  You may need to find a specialist who can help you navigate your tax and money issues to your fullest advantage.
  • Your spouse is going to fight you on whether or not you’re entitled to alimony, including how much and for how long.

Steps in a DIY Divorce

Every divorce is different, but here are some general steps that many people going through a DIY divorce will follow:

First, discuss the issue with your spouse.  If there’s some conflict, that’s to be expected.  You should be able to ascertain if these issues are minor, or they will be difficult stumbling blocks you won’t be able to overcome without added assistance.  Under pressure, some spouses react poorly.  Others are relieved and will do whatever it takes to get through a divorce as cheap and as quick as possible.

Gather the information you’ll need. Courts will require certain information, even in an uncontested divorce.  The more thorough you are in your prep and organization, the smoother things will go.  Gather bank records, insurance and retirement account information, complete information about your children, contact information, and so forth.

Begin discussions with your spouse on specific issues.  Try to address minor issues first so that you can build up a positive rapport.  Keep in mind compromise is the key.  If you want to stay in the family home, you may need to give up some or all of your interests in your spouse’s retirement accounts.  Also, decide on alimony, child support and child custody issues, and tax issues which can cause otherwise smooth DIY divorces to go sideways in a hurry.

Decide how property, assets and debts should be divided.  Many states are equitable division states.  This means assets and debts are divided fairly, but not always on a 50/50 split.  Check with your state to see if they are an equitable division state or a community property state (which divides assets on a 50/50 basis).

Draft a proposed divorce agreement that memorializes the terms you have agreed upon.

Complete divorce forms, either on your own, or with the help of an online divorce service.  Several services offer low-cost assistance and will guarantee your divorce documents are accepted by the court in your jurisdiction.

Submit the case paperwork to your county court.  You will have to pay a filing fee and that cost varies depending on where you live.

Make sure your spouse receives a copy of the filed paperwork in what is known as “process of service.”  You will need to retain a private process server or sheriff’s deputy to deliver papers to your spouse to make them legally aware of your intent to divorce them.

Many states have a waiting period (also known as a “cooling off” period), and your divorce may not be approved until this period expires.  Sometimes this period can be as long as six months (i.e., California), but many states have anywhere from 15 to 60 days.  A few even have no cooling off period.  Check with your local courthouse when you file to see what the waiting period is for your jurisdiction.

In some states, you may need to attend a brief final hearing before your divorce is approved.  In other states, no court appearance will be necessary.  You will be mailed your final decree when it has been approved by a judge.  Again, check with your local courthouse to see what the procedure is.

Read More: 50 Ways to Prepare for Divorce

Top 10 Tips for a Quick Do-It-Yourself Divorce

DIY divorces are attractive because they are cheaper, less anxiety-filled, and they are faster.

If speed is of the essence, here are a few things you can do to optimize the shortest divorce time frame as possible:

  • Begin discussions as a couple as soon as you know you want a divorce.
  • Decide what is important to you and what you’re willing to let go of in the name of compromise.  Having clear goals is critical.
  • Get organized.  Don’t hunt for paperwork at the last moment.
  • Research the divorce procedures and laws for your jurisdiction.  Understand what costs are involved, waiting periods, residency requirements, child support and alimony laws, property laws, and other key legal provisions regarding divorce.
  • Use an online divorce service.  Many times, you can get divorce papers the same day that you sign up for a service.  This is probably the best investment you can make if speed is your first priority.
  • Be responsive.  If your spouse asks you for something related to your case, get it to them as quickly as possible.  Expect the same from them.
  • Don’t hide anything.  If you try to hide documents, etc. then that will create distrust if discovered, and you’ll set your entire divorce back, perhaps by weeks or months.
  • Be honest.  If you know the answer, provide the answer.  If you don’t know, agree to get it.  Remember, the overall goal is to get through your divorce as quickly as possible.
  • Sometimes, couples are required to go to court for a final hearing.  If so, don’t miss the time and date.

DIY Divorce FAQ

Where can I get free divorce papers?

All states provide either packets or individual forms to help people walk through the divorce process.  Forms will vary from state to state and by circumstance.  For example, you may be required to fill out different forms if you have children.

Some legal aid societies can also be good sources for divorce forms and may provide you with some help in completing the forms.

What is online divorce and what should I look for when selecting an online divorce service?

Online divorce services are low-cost providers that assist you in completing forms so they can be submitted to the courts and meet all filing requirements.  Many offer detailed state-specific filing instructions, and add-on divorce tools such as help developing a parenting plan, child support, name changes, or resource libraries to give you the critical information you need to feel comfortable using an online service or going the DIY route.

You should note that these services do not provide legal advice, but many are affiliated with attorneys who can answer your questions.

Services are priced at as little as under $150 up to $500 or more.  Each offers several pros and cons, but generally they are considered an excellent option for people in several types of instances.

What is the best online divorce service?

There are several online divorce services that will expedite your divorce at a reasonable price.  You can also compare online services by reading our “Best Online Services of 2021” article that will provide you with important insights.

From our experience, we think 3 Step Divorce provides the best value.  It is moderately priced, has a great track record, and gets high marks for customer service.

You can read our 3 Step Divorce review – or click here to get started.

How do I get a divorce if I have no money?

If you complete forms on your own, it is possible to ask the court to waive filing fees when you meet certain income-related qualifications.  Otherwise filing fees can run anywhere from $100 to $400 or more, depending on where you live.

The process server fee may also be waived as well.

You’ll need to ask the court where you file if you qualify and what the steps are to making a waiver request to the court.

In some cases, legal aid organizations are also available to help with divorces, especially in cases where domestic violence is present.

Can you get divorced in one day?

No, but depending on where you live, you might be able to get divorce in as little as 1-2 weeks.  Check to see if your state has a waiting period.  That will be the minimum timeframe for you.  Your divorce may be delayed a bit too, depending on if you need to go to court or not, and what the case backlog and judge’s availability are.

What are residency requirements?

All states require that you meet residency requirements before you can get divorced in a particular state.

Many times, the residency requirement is that you have lived in the state for at least six months (sometimes it’s one year).  A few other states have shorter timeframes.  There may also be county residency requirements as well.  For example, if you file at a county courthouse, you may be required to be a resident of that county for the 90 days preceding your filing.

Every residency requirement is different.  Check with the court where you plan to file so this legal requirement doesn’t trip you up.

Do I need to state my grounds for getting a divorce?

Divorce laws have been simplified a lot in recent years.  All states now offer a “no-fault” option that allows you to file without stating why you want a divorce, other than irreconcilable differences.

Some states still offer fault-based options, such as adultery, cruelty, abandonment, and others.  Some people choose a fault-based divorce, but when they do, the divorce process becomes contested, and ultimately more complicated.

Can I get a DIY annulment?

Not all states allow annulments, but for those that do, check with your local jurisdiction to see what the specific requirements are.

To learn more…

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