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Getting a Divorce Without a Lawyer? Here’s What to Expect

Divorce can be a hard-fought battle, involving aggressive, expensive divorce attorneys…or not. If you and your spouse have agreed to end your marriage, you don’t need to make the divorce process more difficult or costly. In many cases, it’s entirely possible to get a divorce without a lawyer.

Do You Need a Lawyer to Get Divorced?

Can you get a divorce without lawyers? It depends on your situation. There are some benefits to having an attorney. First and foremost, they understand the divorce process, court requirements and filing procedures — things you will have to learn on your own if you decide to do it yourself. This potential time investment can make hiring an attorney seem like a better option.

An attorney can also help diffuse volatile situations and negotiate agreements on the major issues involved in a divorce. If you already agree with your spouse, however, you might consider getting a divorce without a lawyer. These issues are:

  • How to divide your “marital property”
  • Who will have primary custody of any minor children
  • What the non-custodial parent’s visitation schedule will be
  • Whether one spouse will pay “spousal support”
  • How you will handle future conflicts about child custody, child support or financial issues

You and your spouse can draft a “marital settlement agreement” for financial matters and an agreed parenting plan for child custody and visitation decisions. When spouses prepare these types of divorce agreement documents together, indicating to the court that they agree on the major issues, a judge will generally respect their wishes.

It can be helpful to consult with an attorney to help prepare these agreements; this ensures that you address all the relevant issues and legal requirements. However, you don’t necessarily need a lawyer. For a more affordable option for your divorce, you can engage a professional family mediator or another type of advisor to help you negotiate acceptable agreement terms without court intervention.

Templates and sample agreements are available from online divorce services and other online resources to provide examples of what you should include and the proper format to use. Preparing these yourself can help you significantly reduce the cost and difficulty of getting a divorce.

Can You File for Divorce Without a Lawyer?

Filing for divorce without a lawyer is easier in some places than others. Some domestic court systems offer robust online divorce resources, including forms, checklists and instructions that walk you through the filing process. These DIY options can include step-by-step directions that make the entire process of getting a divorce easy, fast and affordable. You may even qualify for an expedited, simplified option (typically only available for marriages of short duration involving limited assets and no children).

In addition to providing help and resources to “pro se” litigants, some courts require that self-represented parties attend an in-person or online training class. These can help you learn about the divorce process, the court’s rules and the basics of representing yourself in court.

Even with these resources, it can be difficult to file the documents you need to begin a divorce, respond to the initial petition and arrange to have the court process your case. Many courts now use online filing systems that require both the “petitioner” (the spouse who begins the divorce) and the “respondent” (the other spouse) to create accounts and file documents.

These systems can be confusing and complicated. Trying to file documents in person with a court clerk can mean spending many hours in crowded, stuffy waiting rooms only to find out you’re missing something essential. Handling your divorce entirely on your own can be a frustrating, time-consuming process.

An alternative to handling your divorce without a lawyer is to consult with an attorney on a limited basis. Like hiring a licensed electrician to inspect your work after finishing a DIY home improvement project, you can ask an experienced legal professional to review your draft paperwork before you file it with the court. They can also help advise you on how to use the online filing system or the proper procedures for your local clerk’s office.

Many online divorce services can connect you with attorneys, divorce paralegals and other legal professionals to answer specific legal questions, help you fill out forms correctly or review your drafts. These types of “a la carte” consultations can be much more affordable than hiring a full-service divorce lawyer to handle your case from start to finish.

You may also be able to get low-cost legal advice from family law clinics, legal aid services and attorneys that offer sliding scale or income-based payment options. You can find these resources by contacting your family court, local bar association or city government services office. Many of these are listed online. Some can consult with you over the phone, via email or chat services or by using video chat platforms like Zoom.

Getting a divorce without a lawyer can be challenging. To find out more about your options and help decide what’s best for your situation, you may want to have a divorce attorney evaluate your case.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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