Divorce, dissolution of marriage or separation present legal challenges during an emotional time. In this otherwise serious area of law, we acknowledge the creatively direct message by a Chicago law firm, “Life’s short. Get a divorce”.
Realize that every case is different. Some are simple; others, not so. The laws and procedural rules vary from state to state. Only you can decide if you can do this yourself using forms that you can download and perhaps some assistance from an attorney. This article provides links to some of the forms and services available.
Is my case going to be easy, or hard?
Divorce cases generally follow one of two paths, uncontested and contested: The parties reach an agreement, whether on their own or with the assistance of a mediator, then submit that agreement to the court for approval to receive a divorce or dissolution decree ending their marriage according to the terms they’ve agreed upon; or, if unable to agree, the case will go before a judge who will consider evidence like financial records, witness testimony and expert reports on issues such as valuation of property and custody arrangements. Uncontested divorce cases demand a lot less from you, both financially and emotionally.
Buy a self-help book; Download legal forms
If you are able to work together and the issues aren’t too complex, you may be able to manage your dissolution case without having to formally retain an attorney. You can buy a self-help book with tear-out forms, or download software that will organize and print everything for you. Divorce forms, pre-and post nuptial agreements and other family law legal forms can be purchased online and downloaded to your computer where you can complete and print them, ready for filing, as needed.
Online legal research is now easy and free
Once available only to attorneys paying high prices to access specialized legal databases, you can now research the laws in your state – even find and learn from cases where similar issues have already been decided – using Legal.com’s free Legal Research tool.
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You might need an attorney if …
But if either party becomes uncooperative or there are complicated issues in the case (e.g., most dissolution cases require a family law attorney’s assistance with income and retirement account calculations, or pre- or post nuptial agreements), you should consult a family law attorney. You can search the Legal.com Attorney NetworkSM to find the right lawyer.
If you’re more interested in being assisted through the process, rather than fighting (which is costly both in money and emotional terms), look into Collaborative Divorce where each spouse has an attorney who watches out for their legal rights but practices in a more cooperative style than traditional litigation. Using the collaborative approach, the parties and their attorneys agree to discontinue if the process becomes adversarial. In that event, both attorneys would withdraw to be replaced by more traditional “opposing counsel.”
Hybrid Approach: DIY with Help
As long as things are moving along, you can get help when you encounter a question or would like to have a form you’ve completed checked by someone before you submit it. Many courts have staff and/or volunteers to assist people representing themselves pro-se. There are also legal service plans available that give you access to attorneys who can answer your questions over the phone and even review and offer advice on documents you’ve prepared. LegalShield is available throughout the United States and Canada. New: Uncontested dissolution services as a basic membership benefit! Call Legal.com, Independent Associate, to join 800-253-7271.