Thoughts

Traditional Divorce VS Separation Without a Lawyer. What’s Best For You?

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Divorce usually brings a lot of troubles and emotional tension. Surely, everyone who faces it would like to minimize at least some adverse effects. For example – to ease a legal procedure of divorce as possible and to avoid red tape. In the very first stage of preparation to dissolution, the main thing is to answer such questions like – Whether or not to contest the divorce? Should I hire a lawyer?

First, you should be aware of what types of divorce are available under the circumstances of your case. There are different classifications of divorces, depending on the stage of the process.

  • Fault or No-fault divorce – depending on the ground for divorce which was pointed out in Petition;
  • Uncontested or Contested divorce – depending on whether the spouses are ready to resolve the controversial issues out-of-court or they cannot come to an agreement, so they participate in a court trial and entrust the final decisions of their case to the judge.
  • Pro Se divorce (representing yourself before the court), mediated divorce, collaborative divorce, or lawyer-assisted divorce – depending on the received legal aid.

It is hard to imagine a fault-based uncontested divorce proceeding, or, for instance, complicated contested divorce where one of the parties acts as a self-represented litigant, so let’s reason from generalities to specifics.

Fault-based divorce out of date

First, you should determine the ground for divorce. These days, all the US states have adopted a form of no-fault divorce, which means that you do not need to specify the reason for your breakup and blame your spouse for some wrongdoing. The spouses can state under oath that their marriage irretrievably broke and there is no chance to reconciliation. Then, they should pick a relevant no-fault ground for divorce under the family law of the certain state in their divorce paperwork. Here you can find more information about fault-based divorce.

Good relations can save you good money

No-fault divorce leads the process to the next choice – is it necessary to contest the case? No-fault divorce does not imply the guilt of either party, so, respectively, there is no need to prove this guilt before the court. In theory, you can do without litigation, if both you and your spouse agree to a divorce. Refusing to contest divorce can save a lot of money and time for the couple, so no wonder uncontested divorces make up the majority of all divorce cases in the USA now.

An uncontested divorce is also known as agreed divorce. So, the spouses’ desire to separate must be mutual, and also, the parties should be ready to negotiate a lot. If you do not want a judge to make decisions regarding property division, child custody, alimony, and so on for you, you have to do it independently. There are both pros and cons of such a method; it all depends on the parties’ relations. I the spouses separate quite amicably and both want to avoid court battles, they can cooperate and work together making their Marital Settlement Agreement (Separation Agreement/Stipulation of the Settlement – the title may vary depending on your state), so their divorce has all chances to be finalised quickly and with no mess. 

Usually, the Settlement Agreement must be prepared in advance and submitted to the judge at the final hearing. This document must cover the subjects like spousal support, division of property, assets, and debts, insurance. Sometimes it should also include parenting arrangements (custody, visitation, parental rights, child support payments), and in some other states, the separate document called Parenting Plan is required.

So, before you think about whether you are ready to go through a divorce without a lawyer, realise whether you are good candidates for an uncontested divorce. Talk to your spouse honestly and directly, outline all the advantages of such a simplified dissolution (by the way, in some states, an uncontested divorce can be arranged as “papers only,” without a single court visit), and decide if you are ready to work as a team, not fight.

Legal process is ON. Estimate your strength

So, when you decided on a type of divorce, you should think about how to arrange all the process. 

You have to:

  • gather and fill out divorce forms;
  • file a Petition to the relevant court;
  • serve the other spouse with divorce papers (the serving process is required in most states, where there is no Joint Petition for simplified divorces);
  • work on the agreement;
  • and attend the court hearing to submit your documents and arrangements so that the judge could approve it and finally, enter a Final Divorce Decree.

No matter, whether you are going to contest the case or not, you have the right to seek the help of an attorney, mediator, collaborative law specialist, or just do all by yourself using the online divorce service and public domain info.

In a contested divorce, an attorney acts on your behalf, communicating with your spouse’s attorney and advocating for your interests. Along with it, you won’t have to worry about paperwork – like, where to get, what forms are needed, how to fill them out correctly, etc.

If the case is uncontested, it is still may be a good idea to hire a lawyer to review the Settlement Agreement and other divorce forms. Divorce paperwork shouldn’t be taken lightly, and the forms may be pretty tricky.

Typically, divorce attorney charges an hourly fee (and somewhat more affordable “flat fees” per uncontested cases). An average cost of attorney’s fees for a contested divorce is about $30,000 per spouse; when it comes to collaborative agreed divorce, the cost varies between $5,000 to $10,000. Because of the high price of these services most divorcing couples (especially those who split as friends) wonder if they can do without an attorney.

The answer is – yes, but not everyone and not always. So let’s observe the possible options more in-depth so that you can understand which is best for you.

Representing yourself in a divorce. How not to screw this up

In short, dealing with a divorce without a lawyer is entirely legal. The process of representing yourself in a lawsuit without legal aid is called Pro Se divorce, or DIY divorce.

Although DIY divorce is officially allowed even for a contested divorce,

the lawyers and divorce experts do not recommend to risk so hard. Before decide on representing yourself before the court, you should better check whether you are a good candidate for it.

Agree or disagree with the following statements:

  • Our decision about marriage dissolution is agreed and peaceful. 
  • We do not have underage children.
  • We both are employed and support ourselves.
  • We have neither lots of marital assets nor lots of debts. 

or

  • Even though we have children and/or marital property, we are ready to negotiate and allocate our rights and liabilities through the dialogue. We can write the Marital Agreement independently or resort divorce mediation, parenting classes, or whatever will be needed/recommended by the judge to improve our arrangements.

If you agree with these statements, divorce without a lawyer can be an excellent option for you to save money and get divorced fast.

Then, to start your DIY divorce, you must gather the required divorce forms by yourself. For that, you can check your state’s website. Usually, it government websites provide basic divorce paperwork kits (for example, paperwork package “For contested divorce with/without kids,” “For  uncontested divorce with/without kids,” and “For legal separation.”) If you need some special forms (“Affidavit for Citation by Publication,” “Military Status Affidavit”, etc.) you can get them in the court clerk’s office. Another way is to use one of the online divorce companies, which takes completing the paperwork on them for an inexpensive price of about $150. This option is trendy now since you don’t have to visit the clerk’s office and sort out the papers. The service ensures that everything will be done quickly and correctly according to the peculiarities of your case.

The further stage is filing for divorce with an appropriate court of your place of residence. Filing procedure is similar for all types of divorce – you should apply and sign the Petition, and deliver the copies of some documents (which ones – depends on your state’s regulations) to your spouse. After some time (which also varies from state to state, depending on the Family Law) you’ll be required to submit your Settlement Agreement, and then you’ll receive an invitation to the final hearing.

As we strongly encourage you filing for divorce without an attorney only if your case is uncontested, your final hearing should not be lengthy and stressful. Uncontested divorce hearings imply that the judge review all the paperwork concerning your case along with agreements and considers whether everything is fair and correct. If you did a good job creating your arrangements, the divorce could be granted immediately. 

 

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