You can get a divorce in 3 ways:
- Do it on your own with no assistance
- Hire a divorce lawyer
- Use an online divorce service to complete the paperwork for you.
Getting a Divorce On Your Own
This is the cheapest method, but also requires you to take the time figuring out the paperwork. You might make mistakes which can delay the divorce process. In order to get divorce on your own, it’s best if you and your spouse agree on all the issues. If you don’t, you can represent yourself in a contested divorce trial, but if your spouse has a lawyer, you’ll be at a significant disadvantage.
Getting a Divorce with an Attorney
I recommend this if you and your spouse can’t agree on the divorce terms or if your divorce is complex (involving many assets and/or complicated child custody issues). However, if your divorce is simple and all the divorce terms are agreed upon between you and your spouse, then you can do it on your own – with or without the assistance of a divorce service.
Using an Online Divorce Service
A divorce service doesn’t provide you legal advice. Instead, you answer questions about your divorce, and then the divorce service completes the paperwork for you for a fee. This is typically much less expensive than hiring a lawyer to complete your paperwork and saves you the hassle of figuring out the paperwork on your own.
If you’re not comfortable processing your divorce without legal advice, you can complete the paperwork, then arrange a consultation with a lawyer. You’ll pay for that time. Some divorce lawyers will review the paperwork, get an idea of what’s involved in your divorce, and then give you an opinion whether the terms are reasonable.
Legal Requirements for Divorce
You file for divorce in a particular state or province. In other words, it’s not done federally.
Residency for Divorce
Each state and province requires you or your spouse to have resided for some stipulated length of time before being eligible to file for divorce in that state or province. Six months is common, but it could be shorter.
Most states/provinces have a waiting period from the date of filing your paperwork to the date your divorce order is issued. Waiting periods are usually 6 to 12 months.
Legal Grounds for Divorce
More and more states and provinces grant divorces on a no-fault basis. This means you file for divorce on the basis that the marriage breakdown is permanent. The legal language is “irreconcilable differences”. This basis for divorce doesn’t place blame on either party.
Some states and provinces still have fault-based grounds such as substance abuse, cruelty, adultery, and other grounds.
Main Issues in Divorce
The main issues in divorce are:
- Division of property
- Division of debt
- Child / Spousal support
- Child Custody
Not all divorce situations will include all these issues. Each divorce situation is different. However, where these issues do arise, they must be resolved at some point in the divorce process. This can be early on in the process via agreement between you and your spouse. Sometimes, when agreement is not reached, the issues must be taken to mediation and/or Court.
How to File for Divorce
Please keep in mind this article is generally speaking. Divorce is legislated by each state and province and therefore there are specific laws for filing for divorce in each state and province.
That said, generally, you file for divorce via a divorce petition (in some jurisdictions it may be called something different – but it’s the same thing). One spouse completes and files in a Court the divorce petition.
The petition sets out:
- the grounds (fault or no-fault)
- key information about the parties and marriage such as children, place and date of marriage, names of the parties, property information, child custody information, and/or support information (child and/or spousal).
Once the petition is successfully filed in the Court, then the petitioning party must serve a filed copy on the other spouse who is called the respondent or responding party.
If the divorce is uncontested, which means all the terms are agreed upon between the parties, then the responding party need only sign acknowledgement of receiving service of the petition. If you can’t find the other spouse to serve the petition, you may need to hire a process server to take care of service.
It’s important you serve the petition according to the rules of your state or province. If service isn’t done properly, then your divorce proceedings will be delayed. You may not receive your divorce order until service is done properly.
The Waiting Period
Most states and provinces have a waiting period until a divorce judgment (a.k.a. decree or order) is issued. The duration of the waiting period depends on the state and province. Once you properly serve the petition, that’s generally when the waiting period begins. Service of a petition is a triggering date in that spouses can’t take children out of the jurisdiction, sell property, borrow against property, or sell insurance held for the other spouse until the divorce is finalized.
If you must take a step such as moving children out of the jurisdiction, you must apply to the Court for an order to the effect of what it is you wish to do.
If the respondent contests the divorce, they can file a response to the petition. This would trigger a legal process in the Courts where you will need to participate in order for the divorce issues to be resolved.
If the respondent does not file a response, then the petitioner can request for a default order within 30 days of service (or whatever the amount of time a respondent has for responding in the particular state or province).