You’re getting a divorce, but can’t afford an attorney. That’s tough, but you’re not alone!
Are you looking for information on how to get a divorce? If so, you’re in the right spot! Divorce is not for the faint of heart. It’s a remedy for marriages (maybe yours) that didn’t work out as expected. The reasons for getting a divorce are many, but the process is pretty much the same for everyone:
Divide the marital assets in some form, figure out custody and parenting time if there are children and go back to single life.
Each state has it’s own procedure and laws on how to get a divorce. It’s not always clear and the law has many nuances that you need to be aware of. That’s why there are divorce lawyers. They have specialized knowledge in the law and procedure and are there to guide you through the process.
But, what if you don’t have a lawyer?
It’s a problem for many people, perhaps even you if you’re reading this article.
The basic process for getting a divorce no matter where you live involves some form of the following:
This isn’t technically part of the formal process, but it SHOULD be for you. Like anything in life, the more prepared you are, the more likely you are to do well.
That’s generally how it works…right?
I can’t cover everything you need to do to prepare for divorce, but you should check out my articles. I also have a FREE Video Course on how to prepare for divorce so check that out. In the meantime, I’ll give you the short short version here.
Divorce is about documentation and negotiation. In order to successfully negotiate, you must have all the documentation about the item you are negotiating about.
For example, if you are negotiating joint bank accounts, you need statements for those accounts covering an agreed upon period so you and your spouse agree on how much money is in the account that needs to be distributed in the divorce.
Without the proper statements, how to you know you are negotiating with the right numbers?
Divorce is stressful enough. If you don’t prepare, you will just increase the stress and overwhelm during the process.
The first formal step the divorce process. A pleading is just the legal term for a document at the beginning of the divorce that starts the process for each party. The filing of a Complaint puts your case on the court’s docket and radar. The Complaint states the cause of action (the “why” you are asking for a divorce).
These days, most people file for divorce under what’s called “Irreconcilable Differences,” which is a no fault cause of action. No fault means it doesn’t matter why the divorce is happening. One side will not be favored…there is no fault assigned.
Courts don’t care why you are getting divorced.
After the Complaint, the other pleading that is filed is the Answer, which is a response to the Complaint for Divorce. It’s not uncommon for the responding party to file a Counterclaim, which is just another Complaint for divorce. This is a very common procedure so don’t get excited if this happens to you.
You Don’t Have To Go In Order
Yes, the Complaint is the first document to start the formal divorce process. But, you can do 95% of everything else before you file the Complaint.
Let me explain.
If you and your spouse can keep your emotions in check and the fighting to a minimum, then you can negotiate the entire divorce before you start it with the court. For example, you could both go to mediation and the mediator would draft up the terms of your settlement. Then you both retain an attorney for the sole purpose of reviewing the agreement you made during mediation so you fully understand all the terms. Then, the lawyers draft the final settlement agreement.
When the settlement agreement is finished, THEN you file the Complaint and the court will usually get you divorced in one hearing.
In and Out. Not bad!
So, you miss out on all the court hearings and other drama that takes place during the divorce process.
However, keep in mind that this only works if both parties get along and want to get divorced quickly, fairly and cheaply.
After the pleadings, the discovery period begins. This lasts anywhere to a couple months to more than year depending on the complexity of the divorce and the number of issues that need to be resolved.
This is where both parties put all the cards on the table to see what assets exists that need to be distributed as part of the final agreement or judgment if you have a trial.
Both parties are supposed to exchange documents, statements and any other proof of all assets and debts. Once it’s determined what is in the pot, then it’s time to figure out who gets what. That is part of the negotiations that take place once all discovery is complete.
If custody is an issue, or one party owns their own business, experts may need to be hired to conduct evaluations. Those cost thousands of dollars and take a lot of time. Discovery will not end until all evaluations are completed.
You can’t just write a letter or make a phone call asking to see the Judge in your case. Whenever you want the court to do something, you have to file what’s called a motion, which is a legal term for “request.” It’s a written document that typically includes multiple parts.
Lawyers spend a lot of time preparing motions, which is why they can be expensive, so you want to make sure what you are requesting is worth it.
Motions can have exhibits attached proving what you are claiming in the papers and courts rely on this proof when making decisions. A contested divorce can have multiple motions filed by both parties during the case.
It’s common practice that when one party files a motion, the other side responds by filing a cross motion (a motion of their own requesting some form of relief).
Once discovery is completed and both parties know what assets/debts are in the pot to be divided, it’s time to begin settlement negotiations.
There is nothing preventing you from starting this phase of the process earlier, it’s just that unless both sides know what assets/debts exist, it’s hard to fully negotiate.
Many courts have rules that are built in to its procedures that require parties to attempt to settle their case in good faith. This may take the form of mandatory mediation, or settlement conferences with the court.
The court doesn’t want you to go to trial and trial is long and expensive so it’s preferable to try and settle your case. If both parties have attorneys, they should be encouraging settlement and trying to work it out in between court hearings and before trial.
This is the last stop on the divorce train. The majority of divorce cases never make it this far. That’s because it will cost you thousands of dollars to have your attorney prep and attend a trial for you.
A divorce trial is like any other trial, except there is no jury. You testify, have witnesses, present evidence…the whole bit. If you had expert evaluations, you have to pay them to attend and testify as well.
If you are representing yourself, you better know the court procedure for how to get a divorce in your state along with the rules of evidence because the court will expect you to be on your game as if you were a lawyer.
You are your own lawyer!
But wait, there’s more!
This is just a basic outline of the common stages of the divorce process. The real details are in how you handle each stage. If you don’t have a good attorney on your side, things can get out of hand quickly and then out of control. If you are representing yourself in your divorce, well then it’s even more important that you understand the process and procedure of the court you’re in and maintain emotional stability throughout the process.
If I had to choose, I would emphasize the later as most important. If you are emotionally out of control, the court will not like you and you will not do well.
Neither is a good thing.
That’s why I always suggest going for counseling if you’re getting divorced. Whether you need it or not, it will help you cope with the stress of going through the process.
I go into much more detail about court procedure and emotional health in other articles, so make sure to read those.
As always, be strong, act confident and stay positive!