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A Complete Guide to Do-it-Yourself Divorce


woman thinking about do it yourself divorce

You’ve decided you want to get a divorce, and you are not alone. According to the CDC, there were 782,038 divorces during 2018 in the United States, and only 45 states plus Washington D.C. submitted data. 

You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on attorney fees, and have heard there is something called “do-it-yourself divorce.” Now you are wondering what it is, how much it costs, and what steps you need to take to complete the process. Read on for the down and dirty do-it-yourself divorce.

What is Do-It-Yourself Divorce?

With a do-it-yourself divorce, you eliminate the attorney and handle all paperwork, filing, and hearings on your own. If your divorce is contested it is imperative you seek the advice of an attorney as the process is complicated.

A non-contested do-it-yourself divorce is easy if you have only been married a short time, have no assets, or are having an amicable divorce. The process is possible with more lengthy marriages, but the greater number of assets the more chance there are for disputes and complications to arise.

We will elaborate below, but the process in a nut-shell is:

  • Pick up and complete necessary divorce forms (officially called pleadings).
  • Following the court rules for your location, file the paperwork and pay the filing fees at your courthouse.
  • Serve the divorce papers on your spouse—make sure you follow court rules on this step
  • File proof of service with the court
  • Your spouse has a specific time period to respond to your complaint about divorce, generally around twenty-one (21) days
  • The court will set hearings at appropriate times to meet court requirements for divorce
  • After the divorce is granted you need to prepare and file a Divorce Decree or Judgment of Divorce

Once the judge signs the judgment the divorce is final.

How Much Is A Do-It-Yourself Divorce?

The average cost for a divorce in the United States is $15,000. When you do a divorce on your own it is less costly, but you will incur some costs.

When you file the divorce complaint you will need to pay the court a filing fee. This varies from court to court and may be higher if you have minor children. The average filing fee in the United States is $300.00.

The national average for a process server is $45 to $75. The fee is higher if they have to make several trips to complete the service.  This is how you have the divorce papers filed on your spouse. Alternatively, you can serve the papers on your spouse yourself and have them sign a proof of service that they have accepted service.

If the court requires you to participate in mediation, which may be a requirement when there are minor children, the average fee is $100 to $200 per hour. Parent education classes range from $85 to $350 and are a requirement of some courts.

There may be an additional fee for entry of the divorce decree. Some courts include this in their filing fee and some require payment at the time you submit it to the court.

Once you file the divorce your state may issue court orders that prevent either party from making changes to any insurance policies, selling or transferring property, transferring or removing large amounts of money, closing or making changes to any financial accounts including credit cards, bank accounts, loans, and doing anything that substantially increases the debt of the parties.

Necessary Do-It-Yourself Divorce Papers

Check with your local court clerk’s office to see where you can obtain do-it-yourself divorce forms. The court may have forms available online, at the local library, or at the courthouse.

The basic forms include:

  • Dissolution of Marriage Petition
  • Response to Petition
  • Child Support Worksheet
  • Parenting Plan
  • Proof of Service
  • Consent/Default Decree

Make sure you obtain all forms necessary for couples with minor children.

Follow the Law and Necessary Steps

Every state has laws that affect the divorce process. There are basic requirements in every state, watch them carefully.

Residency

Every state has residency laws that must be met prior to filing for divorce. This varies from state to state. For instance, in the states of Washington, Alaska, and South Dakota there is no set period of time you must reside in the state prior to filing for Divorce.

The majority of states require you to reside in the state six (6) months prior to filing for divorce. Several have a one year period, including Rhode Island and South Carolina.

It is important before completing and filing the paperwork that you check your particular state’s regulations so you do not waste money filing only to have the case dismissed due to a residency violation.

Fault or No-Fault Divorce

Some states require a plaintiff/petitioner to provide a reason for seeking a divorce. This is an at-fault state. Reasons may include domestic violence, drug addiction, alcoholism, adultery, or other reasons the other party is “at fault” for the marriage failure.

In no-fault states, no reason needs to be given for wanting a divorce. When writing your complaint for divorce you will need to state that there are irreconcilable differences. Each state has specific wording to use for this, and on do-it-yourself divorce papers, this will be on the form.

If you wish to provide a reason for the divorce, even in a no-fault state this is acceptable. This is valuable information if the reason supports your requests regarding custody, parenting time, or division of debts and property.

File Complaint for Divorce

If you meet the residency requirements, complete the divorce paperwork and file your divorce. In a do-it-yourself divorce, the court will have forms you complete, making the process easy. Fill in all information, including addresses for you and your spouse, date of marriage, date of separation, and if there are children questions regarding custody and parenting time.

You may prepare a typed and more detailed complaint following the court’s requirements for pleadings. The majority of do-it-yourself filers use the forms for simplification and to make sure they do not miss any requirements.

Answer or Be in Default

If you receive service of a complaint for divorce from your spouse, you only have a specific amount of time to answer those pleadings in writing. Your answer must be filed with the court. You must also provide a copy to your spouse and file a proof of service with the court.

If you do not answer the complaint within the time period, you will be found in default. This means your spouse “wins” the divorce and you will not have any input. The complainant/petitioner will need to file a default request with the court and serve notice of the default on their spouse.

Child Custody, Parenting Time, and Support

If there are minor children you will have additional forms and special hearings that pertain to the minor children. This includes establishing an agreement that sets forth living arrangements for the minor children. You also need to establish parenting time for the parent who does not have primary custody.

Physical custody means that a parent has custody of the child, they live in their home and attend schools in the district where they reside. This is the child’s primary residence.

Legal custody means the ability to make legal decisions about the child, including place of worship, the school they attend, non-emergency medical treatment, extracurricular activities, and more.

Joint Custody means both parents share custody equally. With joint physical custody, the child may live part of a week with one parent and part of a week with another parent. The rotation may also be done one week on, one week off, or whatever schedule is reasonable for the child.

With joint legal custody, each parent has equal input into all decisions that pertain to the care and maintenance of the child.

Each state uses a formula that takes into account each person’s wages and/or ability to earn, whether they have insurance for the child, and the number of overnights the child is with them. The Friend of the Court will determine what is a reasonable amount of child support and medical expenses and which parent should pay.

You and your spouse may come to an agreement regarding child support. The court may or may not accept that agreement. Due to income variances, having the child in your physical custody does guarantee you will be the recipient of child support.

The decisions regarding custody, parenting time, and support are always in the best interests of the child.

Division of Property

In general, divorce in any state requires a fair and equitable division of property. The judge does not have to accept the division you and your husband make if they believe the settlement unreasonably favors one party.

When dividing property, each person receives family heirlooms, personal items, awards from lawsuits, and possessions they had prior to the marriage. The exception is if these items have been commingled with marital assets.

Retirement accounts, including pensions, IRAs, 401(k)s, and investments are normally equalized so that each party has an equal amount, even if the majority of these accounts are only in one person’s name. The equalization of these funds may require having a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) for this purpose.

The easy way to divide property is for each spouse to take items they desire from the home. If there are items both parties want, then set those aside. You may then flip a coin with each party taking turns selecting an item from this group until all items have been divided.

What Happens To The House During Divorce

The marital home is usually the largest asset the parties have to divide. What happens with the home will vary depending on each couple’s circumstances. During the process of divorce, you will need to have an appraisal or home valuation for the court.

The home valuation provides the court with verification that an equitable division of all property is made. If one party has the ability to buy-out their spouse, they may do so. If neither party is able to buy-out the other or financially manage the home on their sole income, the home will need to be sold.

You and your spouse will need to work together on the listing and sale of the home, including the selection of a realtor. You will want to make sure that you use a reputable firm that will work quickly to get the home sold and proceeds in your hand as quickly as possible.

Prepare Judgement of Divorce

When you have a do-it-yourself divorce there is usually a form that serves as the final divorce decree or judgment of divorce. This specifies the division of property and any other requirements. The problem with this form is it lacks personalization.

You may want to consider preparing a judgment from scratch. This allows greater detail to be put into the order. If you chose to take this route, make sure you follow all legal requirements for the creation of this order.

Place the Findings Upon the Record

When you have met all waiting periods and have a settlement you will need to appear in court to place the findings upon the record. This is a hearing in which the judge will ask you specific questions about the settlement.

If the judge is satisfied that an equitable settlement has been made, they will grant the divorce. They may sign the final divorce decree at that time, or they may sign it at a later date. Once the judge signs the judgment your divorce is final.

How To Sell A House During Divorce

There were 534 million existing homes plus an additional 682,000 newly constructed homes sold during 2019 according to the National Association of Realtors. There are a lot of things going on during a divorce, and the last thing you need on your plate is trying to juggle is real estate showings, inspections, and more. This can take months and you need the money now.

The easiest way to get this done is through the use of iBuyer.com. This service allows you to sell your house without the use of a real estate agent. There are no property appraisals, open houses, or showings. The real bonus is you can sell your home and have cash in your hands within 24 hours.

When you sell your home with iBuyer.com, you will answer questions regarding your property. While every home will sell, the most popular homes fall into the following categories:

  • Built after a specific year (newer homes are more attractive)
  • The home is in good condition needing few to no repairs
  • Location is desirable and popular with high demand
  • An automated valuation model (AVM) value of $200,000 to $500,000

If your home falls into the above criteria it is likely to receive several offers. Do not be discouraged if your home does not meet the above criteria. Buyers exist for every home and the only way to sell it fast is to do it with iBuyer.com.

There is no obligation to sell and no fee, so during the stressful time of a divorce, this is an excellent option for putting cash into your hands. Check today to see if there are iBuyers in your city.

Start the Process Now

Now that you know the steps for a do-it-yourself divorce, do not hesitate to submit your address to start the process of selling your house. Divorce can be a difficult choice to make, but the benefit of completing the task and living the life you choose is an emotional plus.

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