[In California, Texas]
In Other States:
Doing your own divorce starts with becoming informed, which is what you are doing right now. You get reliable information, maybe some advice from a reliable source, then make your decisions, including how to go about getting your judgment of divorce. No matter how you proceed, you stay in charge of your case and your life.
Easy Cases—no legal opposition
Doing your own divorce is relatively easy in cases where there will be no opposition in court. This happens in two ways:
Your spouse is gone, doesn’t care or can’t be bothered
You two are able to work out a written agreement about dividing property, support and, if you have kids, parenting.
Whenever there is no legal opposition, all that’s left is some paperwork and red tape to get your judgment. This is no more difficult than, say, a self-employed person doing his or her own income tax return the first time. You can do it yourself, or get someone to help you, but at all times, you are in charge.
If there might be some disagreement
If you think your spouse might oppose you in court if you were to start your divorce right now, don’t go to an attorney or talk about divorce with your spouse until you read the advice in my book, Make Any Divorce Better, which describes specific steps you can take to solve problems and work things out with your spouse. These steps are far superior to anything an attorney can do for you. My book also tells you how to find the right attorney or other professional if you decide you want some advice or assistance.
Be sure to get my Divorce Checklist, an important companion to these instructions. Get it for free here.
The best thing you can do—and you can start right now—is to organize yourself and your facts. The legal and business end of divorce is about property, debts, and support. To make sound decisions, you need to get your facts and documents organized so you’ll know for sure what you’re dealing with.
My Worksheets will help you get organized. Whether you get help or do everything yourself, you still need to get your facts and documents together, so go to the Worksheets page and read about how they can help you get ready to move forward. The worksheets come with Make Any Divorce Better, or you can buy them separately.
At some point you’re going to want to get at least a general idea of how the laws of your state define marital property, separate property, and debts and how those are to be divided, how to determine spousal and child support, and custody and visitation. Read my article, How to Learn About the Law in Your State.
If possible, it’s best to settle everything in a written settlement agreement. This is especially important if you have children, or significant property or debts, or if spousal support (alimony) will be paid.
Once you have a signed agreement, you are 90% done. All that’s left is some paperwork and red tape.
A settlement agreement will help your case sail through court and both parties will know ahead of time exactly how it will come out. Divorces settled with good agreements usually work out better—higher compliance with terms, better post-divorce relationships, better co-parenting, faster healing, and so on.
DealMaker Settlement Agreement Software
To help you make a settlement agreement, I created DealMaker, which is valid in every state and very inexpensive. It requires a monitor with 1024 x 768 resolution or higher, and either Windows or a Mac or Linux system that can emulate or boot into Windows mode.
- Acts as a checklist for everything you need to think about.
- Helps you negotiate.
- Guides you step-by-step through entering information and making decisions.
- Produces a draft agreement, ready for edit, signatures or review by an attorney-mediator.
- Provides the most common options for transfers or sales of real estate and pension funds.
- If you have minor children, DealMaker guides you through the creation of a parenting plan to suit your individual needs.
- Saves you thousands! Attorneys charge $1,500 to $3,000 or more to draft a settlement agreement. With DealMaker, you can do it for $64.95. Even if you get advice from an attorney-mediator before and a review after you make your agreement, you are still way ahead in increased understanding and confidence, and getting advice and a review will cost much less than having an attorney draft your agreement from scratch. To get a free trial version of DealMaker, click here.
Hundreds of thousands of people do divorces themselves every year using reliable books and kits that are made specifically for their state and revised whenever laws or forms change. Don’t get a book or kit that hasn’t been revised recently. Don’t get a book or kit that claims to be good for all states—that just isn’t possible.
Should you get professional help with your paperwork? Ask three questions:
- What do you have to lose? The larger and more complex your estate, the more likely you are to benefit from professional assistance.
- Can you afford to pay a few hundred dollars?
- What else could you be doing with your time?
If you can afford it, it would might be better to get someone else to take care of the red tape and paperwork. Give yourself a treat, get this load off your shoulders. You’d be better off spending the time on yourself, visiting your kids, building yourself a new life. On the other hand, maybe you enjoy doing things yourself, or you’d rather save the money or have a paperwork hobby for awhile.
To do your own divorce you’ll need some help in the form of a reliable book or kit, a good legal typing service or maybe even a certain kind of lawyer.
Books and kits
To do it yourself, you’ll need a recent and reliable book or kit created specifically for your state. The key word is reliable, because we have seen a lot of books that definitely do not qualify, in particular you should avoid books that claim to be good in all states. Don’t believe it! Every state is different. I know for a fact of several states where they definitely do not work, so we consider the whole thing untrustworthy. And you want a book or kit that was published no more than a few years ago. Laws change and old information can be dangerous.
Here’s how to look for reliable books and kits:
- Look in your phone directory in the county government section, or contact your county courthouse and find out where there is a law library that is open to the public. Ask the law librarian if there is a reliable book, kit or set of forms and instructions for your state. If they point you to a computer and show you online forms to fill out, read our comments below about such Internet services.
- Go to the public library and ask the reference librarian if he/she knows of a reliable book of forms and instructions for doing a divorce in your state.
- Many courts have self help forms and instructions on their Web sites. Look in the yellow pages under government listings for the courts in your county. Call and ask where divorces are filed and ask the clerks there if they have self-help material. Ask if their court has a Web site and get the address. Or, get the formal name for the court in your county where divorces are filed and search Google for their Web site. Look for forms and see what they offer. The point is this: when it comes to legal material, if it’s not Nolo or not on an official government site, be very cautious!
Avoid Internet divorce kits and forms
We recommend against online divorce forms and forms that you fill out on the Internet because they have several serious limitations.
- Not enough information. Divorce is not about filling out forms—it is about understanding your situation and making decisions. To fill out forms, you need to know what it means to check one box rather than another or file one form rather than another. You need to know where you are, what’s going on, where you are going. This information is either totally inadequate or completely missing on all sites we have reviewed.
- Limited and incomplete. These services have one fixed way to do cases that does not cover a wide variety of situations. You can easily discover part-way through that your case does not fit their pattern. Some services get you started but do not complete the case or do not provide important options.
- Inflexible. Once you start to fill out the forms, you are stuck on a very long path that you can’t get off. It is not easy, maybe not possible, to jump about from one place to another. What’s worse, you can’t step back and get a long view, so you are forced to work without a good understanding for what’s going on, where you are in the process, where you are trying to go, or why you are doing things their way.
If someone referred you to a particular forms site, ask them about these points.
Divorce Typing Services
The idea behind legal document typing services is that you know exactly what you want and merely hire secretarial assistance to prepare and process your paperwork. Actually, they provide much more help than that, but it’s not cool to say so out loud.
Before you hire someone, find out how long they have been in business, talk to them, ask for references and really check them out.
No formal training is required to run a divorce typing service, so don’t depend on them for legal advice. It is important that you be informed and know what you want, even if that means getting a little advice from a family law attorney-mediator. It would not be safe to have a divorce typing service draft any but the simplest marital settlement agreement unless you have a fairly simple, low value case. If you need something more, take a look at Nolo’s DealMaker software that guides you to making a comprehensive settlement agreement.
Here’s where to look for a divorce typing service:
- Classified ads in local papers or shopping guides under “services.”
- Phone directory yellow pages. Look in the index for headings like Document Preparation, Legal Document Assistance, Legal Forms Preparation, Paralegal Services, Typing Services.
- Internet. Do a Google search using the name of your state and “divorce service.” Go to Craigslist and click to your state and a nearby large city, then under “services” click on “legal” and search for “divorce” and see what turns up.
If you want a lawyer to do your paperwork, call a lot of them. Tell them that your case will definitely not be contested and you want to know what they charge just for doing the paperwork in such an easy case. If you have a written settlement agreement, that’s even less for the lawyler to do, so be sure to tell the lawyer you have one before requesting a price. Shop around until you get a reasonable price, if you can.
Take care that lawyerly techniques do not drag you into more service than you need or increase the conflict or complexity of your case. Be prepared, know what’s going on, supervise and manage your own case. That’s what works best.
You can also hire an attorney just to draft a settlement agreement, although I suggest you make your own with DealMaker software and, if you like, ask an attorney to review it. Either way, this kind of job should be done at a flat rate. Call around and compare prices.
In some cities, there are cheap lawyers who run divorce mills but here as anywhere you frequently get what you pay for. If they do not complicate your case and promote more legal work for themselves, they will essentially be doing the work of a divorce typist for a higher price. Cheap lawyers can’t take the time to help you understand your case; they are notorious for not returning calls.
But wait, there’s more!
To read more about the various kinds of help you can get from different professionals and how to find the right one, read Who Can Help?
If you unexpectedly find yourself in disagreements with your Ex, don’t discuss sensitive issues until you read Make Any Divorce Better and learn how to talk to your spouse and smooth things out. If you want personal help with working things out, read Who Can Help.