Before I founded Hello Divorce, I was terrified of “DIY” law. I didn’t actually believe that it was a good option for most people. I was scared they’d get stuck in the process or unknowingly make impactful mistakes. But the more stats I researched, the more I learned just how many people do it on their own and don’t go to trial. Did you know in over 75% of divorces, at least one spouse is self-represented? It’s true! So I leveraged my legal know-how and found a killer team to help me create a tool that would ensure that anyone who wants to take control of their breakup – could do so, without breaking the bank. But, I will admit, it takes a bit of work on your part to get your divorce completed. So, if you want to know the BEST way to DIY your divorce, read on. I never EVER hide the ball.
The Divorce Your Friends Will Be Jealous Of
That is, assuming they are divorced. If they are in a healthy, happy relationship, I wouldn’t advise they go out and get a divorce just because there’s a helpful tutorial out there ;-).
Ready? Here are the exact steps to take in order to make the divorce legal process as easy as possible
If you can, see if you and your spouse can get on the same page — or at least agree to make every effort to keep your divorce out of court. If you made the decision to divorce, your ex may not have caught up to you yet (in terms of being ready to start the process) but s/he will likely be relieved when you tell them you do not intend to ‘lawyer up’ with the most aggressive attorney in town. Work together to answer questions like, when, how, and where will you discuss divorce-related topics? Will the end game be an agreement that you both can live with? Who will be the “Petitioner” (the first party to file docs)? How and when will you tell the kids? Separating couples who start with these basics before moving on to the more complicated stuff often fare much better.
Pro tip: In most states (and divorces), there’s no legal advantage to filing “first.” So…. choose who will file the divorce petition by considering the criteria below:
- Which one of you is more likely to follow through with completing forms or checking status?
- Was there a core issue in your marriage where one of you felt disempowered? If so, the person who felt controlled should file first so they feel less triggered during the process.
Note: I’m not making anyone WRONG. I’m not saying that someone WAS controlling or that one of you “made yourself a victim.” I don’t need to know that and you don’t need to focus on that. You’re divorcing and so neither of you needs to be “right” any longer — that doesn’t need to be a fight that you have. We just want to set the both of you up for success.*
I don’t know about you, but I like to know where I’m headed. There are two resources on Hello Divorce that I recommend you download and/or print out. The divorce flow chart and the divorce checklist. Even if you are a DIY Pro member and a legal assistant will be filing and serving your forms for you, you still will want to stay the course.
There are loads of forms that are required to complete. And it’s impossible to keep track of unless you are following along a path. Of course, the Divorce Navigator is always available to you but these two resources are helpful for the ‘big picture.’ Court clerks simply will not process your divorce if you don’t complete all the requirements.
“DIY” doesn’t have to mean all alone. Even a fairly “simple” divorce (i.e. no kids, limited assets etc.) is tricky. This is not a one-off transaction like a will or trust — it’s an entire legal journey of unwinding the marital contract. And as complicated as legalese and divorce forms are, court procedure and the ever-changing rules around filing can be twice as frustrating.
I think you know what I’m going to recommend — after all, I’m more than a bit bias here but really, I want you to have choices. I want you to know that IF you need some extra help from a lawyer, mediator or legal assistant… it’s available to you. And I want you to prepare forms correctly so that you don’t have to redo them or worry they don’t say what you mean them to say. The best way to do that is to review reliable resources written by the best legal, financial and wellness pros in the industry and answer our guided online interviews (think: Turbo Tax for divorce) instead of trying to figure out what the heck the forms are asking you and then squeezing your response into badly formatted PDFs. Have I convinced you yet that the best way to DIY is actually to allow us to Do-it-WITH-you? Learn more about our DIY+ options here DIY+ options here.
Stay the Course
Don’t try to do everything at once – especially if one or both of you are still feeling really emotionally charged. Your first task is to decide if you will file together (if that is an option in your jurisdiction) or separate. Then you prepare the first set of paperwork. If you are using Hello Divorce, that’s Step 1. Then, if you don’t have the option of a co-petition or Stipulation, you need to accomplish Service of Process to trigger the waiting period and further your divorce proceedings. There are a couple of ways to do this and usually, service can be handled “informally” if your spouse agrees to sign a waiver or acknowledgement. When that’s done, you’re on to the next step — usually financial disclosures. Remember, just because you disclose something doesn’t mean it’s joint property. But failing to disclose can trigger serious issues for you so be truthful. The final step is your divorce agreement and decree (sometimes called “judgment.”) If you don’t yet have an agreement on all issues agreement on all issues, now is the time to do some negotiating either on your own or with the help of a lawyer. You can also consider mediation or employing the help of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or Co-parenting Counselor.
Pro tip: Prioritize your needs and expect to compromise on some of your “wants.” And when negotiating, don’t start by giving something up – start with what “me” not “we.” It doesn’t mean you are being selfish, it’s just smart negotiating and will end up getting you closer to a resolution you feel comfortable with.
So there you have it, DIY without the WTF. We’re rooting for you and will be here with legal help, referrals, kind words and resources. One step at a time, you got this!
*There’s a clear distinction between a manipulative and/or controlling partner versus an abuser. If you are a survivor of financial, emotional and/or physical abuse, DIY might not be a good option for you because you will likely have to engage with your spouse directly.