Divorce | Family
Can You Divorce without a Lawyer?
by Philip Ahn, Attorney
The average cost of a divorce in the United States is roughly $15,000. With this in mind, it makes sense why many people wonder if they can cut out a majority of those costs by choosing to divorce without a lawyer.
Yes, you can divorce without a lawyer. It is typically not recommended, however. Those who can agree with their spouse about divisive divorce issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support, the division of property and assets, etc. are usually the best candidates for a divorce without hiring a lawyer. Let us connect you today with a local divorce attorney to understand if you need a lawyer.
Learn more about getting a divorce without a lawyer below.
Should I Get a Divorce Without a Lawyer?
Can you get a divorce without a lawyer? Yes. Should you get a divorce without a lawyer? In most cases, no.
A divorce can have a major impact on every facet of your life. Not only does it impact your current finances, but it can also affect relationships with your children, your living situation, future finances, etc.
Going through the divorce process without a seasoned divorce attorney can leave you in a vulnerable position. This can be the case even if you and your spouse agree on the parameters of your divorce.
If you are unsure if you should hire an attorney, it may be in your best interest to take advantage of a free consultation with a reputable divorce lawyer before you decide to represent yourself.
Things to Consider Before Divorcing Without a Lawyer
If you are sure that you want to file for divorce on your own, it is important to consider the potential implications of that decision. Learning and understanding family law, your rights, court procedures, and what you’re entitled to from a divorce takes a lot of time and energy.
The emotional toll of a divorce can be devastating. Adding the task of self-representation on top of that can make the process overwhelming for some. A few things to consider before divorcing include mediation, the time and energy involved, and tax considerations. Learn more about each below.
In cases where you and your spouse only have a few disputed issues and a willingness to negotiate, mediation allows couples an opportunity to work through their issues with the help of a professional mediator.
Though couples are not required to hire an attorney for mediation, it is helpful to at least consult with one before the mediation process begins and before you sign any agreement. They will help to ensure that your rights are protected, you are getting what you are entitled to, and your agreement is fair to you.
The Time and Energy Involved
Divorce laws differ from state to state. Learning and understanding the laws and procedures that apply to your situation can be difficult without help from a family law attorney. If you choose to represent yourself in divorce proceedings, the court will have the same expectations of you they will have of an attorney.
If you have the time, patience, and temperament to research the laws in your state, gain an understanding of how they apply to you, then learn your rights, etc., getting a divorce without an attorney becomes more feasible, but typically it is still not recommended.
Potential Tax Issues
When divorcing, taxes are usually the last thing on people’s minds. However, a divorce can have major implications on your tax situation (i.e. businesses, net-worth, asset allocation, etc.). Though this is not an area of expertise for most divorce lawyers, they can refer you to an accountant or financial adviser who will consult with you about the financial implications of your pending divorce.
How to File for Divorce Without a Lawyer
Divorcing without the help of an attorney is typically best suited for those who have been in short-term marriages, without children, and can agree with their spouse on most issues. The divorce process is different in each state and can vary greatly according to your unique circumstance. However, there are commonalities. Learn more about the general process of filing for divorce below.
File for Divorce Petition
Even if you and your spouse agree to get divorced, one party must file a petition with the court to legally end the marriage. In general, the petition must contain the following information:
- The information of the spouse who is requesting the divorce (who must be a legal resident of the state)
- The reason that the petition to terminate a marriage is being requested
- All other mandatory information and documentation that your state requires
The family court clerk’s office will provide you with important information such as what forms are needed, where you can find them, and how much are the filing costs. You will need to check with your state or a family law attorney to learn if your state distinguishes “no-fault” divorces from “at-fault divorces” and how the process differs with each.
Request Temporary Orders
A divorce can sometimes take six months to a year to conclude. Many spouses cannot afford to wait that long to receive spousal support, child support, or iron out other details of child custody. In these cases, you can request temporary orders.
If you do request a temporary order, the judge will request information from both spouses and hold a hearing to determine a temporary course of action on support and custodial issues. Temporary orders can be granted in a matter of weeks or sooner depending on the circumstances. They are effective until a final ruling is made in your divorce case.
Serve Paperwork to Your Spouse
The spouse who files the divorce petition is also responsible for serving their spouse with a copy of the paperwork. You also need to provide the court with a “proof of service” which lets the court know you have fulfilled your obligation for serving the paperwork within the required time.
Most states allow you to use a process serving company or your divorce attorney to serve the documents to your spouse. Once your spouse has been served, they have a specific amount of time to respond. If they do not respond, it could result in a default judgment against them.
In their response, your spouse has the opportunity to dispute any claims made against them as well as other issues in the divorce such as custody considerations, spousal support, etc.
Negotiate with Your Ex
Most divorces require spouses to negotiate issues such as division of property, support issues, how assets will be allocated, etc. Some states require you and your spouse to attend mediation. If mediation is not mandatory in your state, it could still be beneficial to attend mediation sessions.
If you cannot come to a settlement agreement with your ex during mediation or other forms of negotiation, it is likely your case will head to trial.
When negotiations are ineffective or not feasible, couples turn the decision over to a family court judge to make the final ruling on areas of dispute. Divorce trials are typically costly and lengthy. Bringing your case to trial means that you will no longer have the power to affect the outcome of your divorce settlement. The final ruling is rendered by a judge.
It is recommended that you hire an experienced divorce lawyer to discuss your case before heading to trial.
Regardless of whether you and your spouse can negotiate an agreement or whether it is a judge who decides your case, the ruling is not finalized until a family court judge signs the order of dissolution. The judgment will have specific instructions on child custody, spousal support, child support, and other major issues.
If you and your spouse can reach an agreement before going to trial, the divorce lawyer of the petitioning spouse will typically draft the judgment, but a judge will still have to approve it.
If you are unhappy with the ruling made by a judge, you have the option to appeal the ruling (which can be difficult) or file a motion to modify the divorce. In either scenario, it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney.
Who Should Hire a Divorce Lawyer?
In most cases, divorce is not easy either emotionally or financially. If you are part of the minority of divorcees who agree on all the parameters of your divorce with your spouse, it’s much easier to file for a divorce without hiring an attorney (but still not recommended). However, that is not the case for most people. You should consider hiring a family law lawyer if:
- You and your spouse cannot agree on major issues
- There is a child involved and you are concerned about custody rights
- You do not have an in-depth understanding of divorce laws in your state
- You don’t have the time or energy to handle everything on your own
- You need help with the paperwork
- You need advice about what direction to take in your divorce
- There are major financial implications
How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost?
It’s no secret that divorces are expensive. In many cases, the biggest expense is the cost of hiring an attorney. Most divorce lawyers charge an upfront fee of $3k – $5k just to get started on your case, and an additional $300 – $500 per hour on top of that.
Lawyers typically cost so much because they handle every aspect of your case when you hire them. However, there are ways to save money on legal fees. One of the easiest methods of reducing the overall cost of legal representation is to have a working relationship with your ex. This can facilitate easier negotiations which can equate to a faster divorce process and significantly lower legal fees.
Another method of saving money is to hire an unbundled attorney to handle some aspects of your case, while you take care of the rest. Learn more about how you can save money with unbundled legal services below.
Save Money with an Unbundled Lawyer Today
With unbundled legal services, you can save thousands of dollars in upfront fees by hiring a divorce attorney to help you with the more complex areas of your divorce case while you take care of the rest.
Fees for unbundled attorneys start as low as $500 – $1500.
It is important to note that not every case is a good fit to be unbundled. If your case is more complex, our network of small law firms and independent unbundled attorneys also offer full representation at an affordable rate.
Connect with an Unbundled Lawyer today, who can guide you through the process, step in when needed, and help you achieve your legal goal.