Pro Se Divorce Guide

by Heather Frances J.D. Google
Couples who get along may be able to skip the lawyer's office.

Couples who get along may be able to skip the lawyer's office.

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To legally end your marriage, you must get a court-issued divorce decree, but you do not necessarily have to hire a lawyer. You can complete much of the paperwork yourself, especially if you and your spouse agree on the terms of your divorce, using the court's free forms or an online document service provider. However, there are situations in which hiring a lawyer is a good idea.

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Preparing the Forms

It may be easier for you to file for divorce on your own, if you take a little time to prepare yourself. For example, you will likely need information from important documents like your marriage certificate, bank statements or credit card statements. If you are filing for divorce on fault-based grounds like adultery, you must also assemble evidence to prove your case. Since state laws and local procedures vary, it is also a good idea to research your court's rules and procedures before you get started. You may also want to talk to your spouse about the divorce and its terms, as it may be much easier to complete your divorce if you and your spouse agree on the details.

Completing the Forms

Although the exact forms you will need to complete for your divorce depend on the laws of your particular state, the basic process is the same in most states. Your divorce case begins when you file a petition or complaint for divorce with the court clerk. This document details what you are requesting from the court and it lists details about you and your spouse such as your names and when you married. If you have children, likely you will have to file a child support affidavit that lists details about your income and certain expenses. Even if you do not have children, you may need to complete a financial settlement agreement that includes your income, asset and debt information. Typically, you can file a proposed divorce decree or settlement agreement when you file your petition, or you may be able to file it at a later date This document provides the terms of your divorce, including how you and your spouse will split your marital property.

Serving Your Spouse

Once you file your divorce paperwork to start your case, you must ensure that your spouse receives a copy. Generally, you can have a sheriff or private process server personally hand the papers to your spouse, or you may be able to mail them to his last known address. Most states allow service by publication in the newspaper or at the courthouse if you cannot find your spouse for service by other methods. Until you provide proper service as required by your state's laws, the court cannot proceed with your case.

Completing Your Case

After you serve your spouse, he has the option to respond to the papers by filing an answer with the court. Whether or not he files an answer, you can then work toward finalizing your divorce. Generally, courts have a procedure by which spouses can request a hearing date to get the court to sign off on their agreed-upon settlement terms and issue a divorce decree. If you and your spouse disagree on the terms of the divorce, however, you may wish to hire an attorney since the process can get complicated if your spouse decides to fight the divorce.