Can You Get A Divorce Without Going To Court?
You can get a divorce without going to court. For many couples, a non-court divorce is the easiest and least expensive option available.
A divorce without going to court could be easier on your emotions too. Experts say anxiety is the number one communication barrier in court cases. Many people find testifying in court terrifying and do anything to avoid it.
Keep reading to find out how divorces work when you don't go to court, and learn more about why you might need a traditional divorce instead.
What does the traditional divorce process look like?
In a traditional divorce, couples use plenty of outsiders to help them split up equitably. The process is long and can be expensive.
A traditional divorce typically follows several steps:
- File paperwork. One partner heads to a courthouse and completes a set of documents detailing why the split should take place. This partner sends a copy of these documents to the other party.
- Share information. Both partners fill out documents concerning finances, and their lawyers interview people close to the case. Everything documented during this discovery phase is shared with the other party.
- Prepare for court. Many divorce cases involve witnesses, including experts who can attest to complex issues like child welfare and finances. Lawyers typically ask their witnesses to prepare for their testimony with rehearsals.
- Trial. Both partners and their lawyers come into the courtroom to argue their case. The judge listens to all of the information and makes a final ruling.
A typical contested divorce like this can take more than three months to finish. Lawyers need time to work up their cases, and busy courts may have long wait times for hearings. All of this added prep can add to the total cost of the divorce too.
What are my alternative options?
You don't want to go to court, but you want to split with your partner. What can you do? Plenty of alternatives exist, such as these.
In most states, you're not required to hire a lawyer to facilitate your divorce. If you collaborate with your partner, you can end your marriage without paying someone to help.
Many states (including Missouri, New York, and Washington) place divorce paperwork online, along with many instructions. Collaborative couples could download these documents, fill them out together, file them, and end their marriages by paying little more than a filing fee.
DIY divorces may be quick and relatively inexpensive, but they can also be complicated. Choose the wrong form or fill it out incorrectly, and your case could get rejected almost immediately. If you don't have a legal background, or you're not comfortable with navigating such a complex process alone, this could be a stressful path for you.
Couples with conflict can't always complete a DIY divorce. Issues like child custody or spousal support are hard to resolve, and until they are, the divorce can't move forward.
During mediation, couples work with a professional on topics blocking the divorce. The mediator remains impartial and can't offer guidance or resolutions. But this person can help fighting couples to find common ground, which could help them fill out their divorce papers and split without going to court.
In states like Oregon, mediation is required for divorcing couples who have children. Sometimes, families aren't required to pay for this step. But for couples without children or those living in states that don't pay for mediation, this step comes with a cost.
Legal experts can do more than simply speak for you in a courtroom. Hiring a lawyer could help you work through difficult topics without ever going to court.
In a collaborative divorce, both parties hire lawyers and agree to work together outside of the courtroom. Lawyers represent only their clients, not the marriage itself, and some lawyers work in private negotiations without their clients. For people who can't bear the thought of sitting in a room with a spouse, this could be a good option.
Lawyers aren't cheap, and options like this could cost thousands of dollars. But they could also be less expensive than a court case, as less preparation and time are involved.
Is an alternative option right for me?
With so many options available, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Exploring a few scenarios could help you understand which split option is best for you. Consider the type of couple you are before you make a decision.
Couples who collaborate
If you work well with your partner, a DIY divorce could be a good option for you. Together, you can fill out the paperwork, split your estate, and move forward with few hassles and little mess.
Couples with few assets
Fights often break out over items like houses, businesses, and children. If your marriage is relatively new, or you haven't built up a robust estate, you could also benefit from a DIY divorce. You have little to argue over, so the process moves fairly quickly.
Couples that disagree over one or two items
You've tried a DIY divorce, but there are a few pesky sticking points that remain. Mediation could help you push past these few problems, so you can then return to the DIY divorce process and save money and time.
Couples that can't collaborate & don't agree
Collaborative divorce allows you to speak through a lawyer. Your interests are protected, and you're working through difficult topics. But you're not working in a courtroom to get what you want.
Couples who absolutely can't work together
Abuse, abandonment, and deception could make it impossible to work with your spouse in any way. Going to court could be the best way to hold your spouse accountable and protect your interests. While it's not an ideal way for every couple to divorce, courtrooms can be safe spaces for couples with no other option.
Have Questions About Divorce? Don't Know Where to Start?
Anxiety in the Courtroom. (December 2016). The Center for Anxiety and Stress Management.
Divorce in Oregon. (December 2010). Legal Aid Services of Oregon.
Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce) Forms. Missouri Courts Judicial Branch of Government.
Divorce Forms. New York State Unified Court System.
Wahkiakum County Superior Court Divorce by Mail. Wahkiakum County.
Could Mediation Help Your Children Survive Divorce? (July 2019). U.S. News & World Report.
Divorce, Separation, Annulment. Oregon Judicial Branch.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost in 2023? (July 2022). Forbes.