After weighing the benefits, drawbacks, and responsibilities associated with filing for a divorce yourself, the next step is to get it filed. Every state is a little bit different in the divorce process, but this article will outline the basics of how to file for a divorce yourself, as well as some resources that are available to help direct you in the process with the specifics for your state. Please note that the tips in this article are for informational purposes only, based on my own experiences and research for my own divorce, and are not intended as any kind of substitute for legal advice.
Obtaining a pro se divorce packet
The pro se divorce packet contains all of the papers needed to file for a divorce yourself. These can be obtained from your local courthouse, generally for a small printing fee of about $10. Some states have also made these packets available online, allowing individuals to print out their own packet for just the cost of paper and ink. Read all of the information and instructions that are provided very carefully, and seek out as many other resources regarding applicable laws as possible. Once you decide to file for a divorce yourself, you are legally responsible for fulfilling all of the requirements regardless of whether you knew you were supposed to or not.
Filling out the divorce packet
Before you file for a divorce yourself, read all of the instructions available for filling out the pro se divorce packet – not all of the papers included in the packet will be used, and not all of the ones you need will be filed right away. Fill out the paperwork that is required immediately, and then take it to a notary public to notarize your signature on all of the papers. Generally, a notary is available at the courthouse, at your local bank, or at most attorneys’ offices. Take the paperwork to the courthouse along with any applicable filing fees. You may be required to arrange for the papers to be served to your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
Filing additional paperwork
Especially if there is disputed property or child custody in the divorce, there may be a lot more paperwork to file after the initial divorce papers. Make sure you are very clear on what is expected when, and what your legal rights are regarding any paperwork you receive in return. You may be required to file motions for hearings, extensions, or other actions that may or may not be included in the pro se divorce packet, so make sure you know all of the requirements at all times.
The top reason people file for a divorce themselves is that they cannot afford a lawyer. If this is the case with you, or if you do not wish to get a lawyer involved, most states offer legal aid in some cases, especially for low-income individuals. Generally, legal aid cannot represent you in court, but they can make sure that paperwork is properly filled out and filed on time. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of what can be a complicated legal process. Bear in mind that the clerks at the courthouse cannot give you legal advice, they are only there to process the paperwork and answer general questions about how to file.