Can You Do Your Own Divorce?

QuestionMy husband and I are talking about getting a divorce after six years of marriage. We don’t have any children, and he thinks we can do it ourselves. What do you think?

AnswerDoing your own divorce makes sense if your case is not complicated, your marriage was of short duration, you and your spouse have no substantial assets, you have no minor children, and you and your spouse can reach a fair and amicable settlement yourselves. If you or your spouse own a business, have hard-to-value assets, are engaged in other legal proceedings, or have assets which are not clearly either separate or marital property, you have a complicated divorce on your hands, and will need the help of an attorney skilled in family law matters. You definitely will want specialized advice if one of you is in bankruptcy, or is headed that way.

Even if you do your own divorce, you may need help from a professional such as an accountant, financial adviser, mortgage broker, real estate agent, banker, mediator, and others. There are many decisions that you must make that will affect your financial future, and in your emotional state you may not be thinking clearly about your situation.

Several unusual situations can make divorce more costly, frustrating and time-consuming, including having a spouse out of state, out of the country or out of his mind. Divorce may also be complicated if one of you is in the military service or is a non-resident alien. And as much as you may wish it at times, divorce can become devastatingly complicated if your spouse dies during the proceedings.

Comments

  1. My husband suffers from bipolar. I dated him for 3 years and he was charming. It is certainly going to end in divorce as his behavior is difficult for me to deal with. I am facing major surgery in one month and he has the family health insurance policy through work. We live in Michigan. He is threatening to drop my coverage prior to surgery. Are there laws to prevent this until after the divorce?

    • I don’t know the laws in Michigan, so I don’t know whether he can discontinue your health insurance. But he is putting himself at financial risk if he does so. That’s because you are each responsible for the other’s support, care and debts. So if you have a major illness or injury, he is financially responsible. If and when one of you files for separation or divorce, then an automatic order will probably go into place against canceling any insurance until further court order.

  2. My husband and I have been married for almost 20 years. I was going to proceed with divorce, but then he got laid off from an academic institution that he worked at for almost 30 years. We hired an attorney to litigate his case to negotiate severance pay. This happened 1 week ago. So my question is, am I entitled to his severance? He will likely get a large sum of money. I’m self-employed and have not had any income for the last 6 months so he’s been in complete control of the money. In fact, he took everything out of our joint account and opened a personal account so that I don’t have any access. I have to ask him for money to buy every little thing, even a coffee. I feel stuck. What are my rights? He claims that everything is “his” money since I have not contributed to the money pot in 6 months. I’ve been selling my own stuff on eBay just to have a little cash.

    Thank you for your help. I was going to do mediation, but this may be more complicated. I may need to hire an attorney, but I’m not sure how I can even pay for assistance when I have no access to funds.

    • Mediation still might be your best avenue. In mediation, the mediator can talk about your rights to share in the funds, his duty to support his family, and perhaps get him “calmed down” so he doesn’t hold the pursestrings so tight. You are likely entitled to part of the severance, either as a property distribution or as funds available to pay you support.

  3. I want to file a divorce and I don’t want any things from him. We owned the house. What is the procedure for that. We don’t have kids.

  4. What happens if your ex SAYS he will agree to everything but then on the divorce paperwork lies about even working and where the kids really live?the lawyer can’t accept that paperwork right?or if they do the divorce will become contested?and what happens if the other party can’t or won’t hire an attorney?

    • These are questions you should ask your attorney. If your ex signs paperwork under penalty of perjury that you can show is not true, then the court will look very unfavorably on him. If you and he don’t agree on things, then your divorce is contested. If your ex won’t hire an attorney then he will be representing himself in the divorce action.

  5. Leslie says:

    I have been waiting for approximately 7 month for my ex to “correctly” fill out the judgement papers so our divorce can be finalized. He keeps saying that the courts keep sending back the papers to him with corrections needed. We have been going through a divorce for almost 5 years now and I the man I am currently seeing has been waiting patiently for a year to marry me. At this point I want to hire an attorney to finish the paper work but it almost seems pointless since everything is done, just his lack of competence. How can I speed up the process? By the way, we went through the Los Angeles Superior Court.

    Thank you

    • You can request that your marital status be terminated, even if the final paperworrk isn’t yet done, which would enable you to remarry. And you can ask to see ( or take over) the paperwork process and where it stands.

  6. Alice Dressen says:

    My husband has a pension he says he needs every penny of – even though he is only 50 something, he retired from another job. He does not want me to have any of it, though I am raising our 14 year old daughter on a part time college professor salary. I did not ask for alimony or child support as I assumed I was entitled to part of his pension and eventual social security. We lived in NJ, but I am now living in NY with our daughter. I can’t really afford an attorney. Thanks.

  7. My wife and I are seniors and have a wonderful personal relationship. We have been married for 34 years. We are facing the real potential of protracted financial difficulties due to my tax situation which could effect her dramatically creating financial hardship for her for many years to come and even long after my death. she has no direct connection or obligation to that tax situation. We have always lived separate financial lives and own nothing together. We live in California and the Community Property laws threaten her immediate income and her financial future if my tax situation goes South. Terminating our legal marriage is an option if it will help this situation. We have no minor children and could easily agree on terms. Do you feel this would be a possible solution.

    • You’ll need to consult a tax specialist to see what your best course of action is. That expert can assess your particular situation to see if a divorce would end your wife’s legal involvement in your tax problems.

  8. My husband and I were married outside the US in 2008, I came to FL in 2009. We have lived together for 4years, we have no kids and I am a housewife. We have a property under both our names. I will ask for a divorce soon but I want to know if the property is going to be equally distributed between the two of us, knowing that I don’t have a job and I didn’t financially contribute in it.

  9. My husband left me over two years ago..I had no job no car nothing I cant afford a lawyer and I dont work now because I take care of my mother so Idk where to turn to or what to do can you help?

  10. Jan Jordan says:

    I am 59 and in poor health, bypass and vascular surgery in 2013, and in need of other vascular and cervical surgery as soon as I have health insurance. My husband of 41 years has left to live with his girlfriend. He will be 62 next month and is working, although not making a great deal of money, I believe around $25k annually.
    I have applied for SS Disability but have not received a determination. My husbands household consists of himself, the girlfriend who does receive SSD and also his sister who receives SSD. I receive temporary disability for three months at a time, and then have to re-apply and wait for approval (benefits are not paid during this wait time.)
    He has asked for an uncontested divorce. We have no joint marital assets. He has threatened that if I ask for any support or maintenance he will cut off contact. My adult children agree with their father because he does not make a lot of money. But at times, like the end of this month I will have zero benefits until I hear from SSD. My medical bills are enormous and monthly RX costs exceed $400. I could not afford to continue COBRA.
    Under this scenario do you fell I am entitled to maintenance, and any guess what that would be?
    I’m hopelessly still praying for a reconciliation but I’m on my own with that wish. He continues to ask for an uncontested divorce and plans to marry the other woman.
    I’m in disparate need of advice. Thank you.

  11. Nancy Beals says:

    Hello and thanks for your help. I have been married for 25 years. We have no children. Marriage was okay at first but steadily declined. He has always had control of the money. We have never had a joint account on anything, even a checking account; everything is in his name. There is so much to tell but I won’t go into it here. But after so many years of rotten behavior, I did research and found that he fits the profile perfectly of someone with narcissistic personality disorder. I have always felt sorry for him and have stayed with him because I cared for him, but I just recently realized that he doesn’t love me at all; in fact I believe he hates me. Just a little background. I worked as a medical transcriptionist for 25 years; however, that job is no longer viable (done now by machines, electronic medical record). We live in Tennessee where there are no jobs. I’ve sent hundreds of resumes and applications to no avail. I’ve asked if we could move so I could find work but he only does thinks that are expedient for himself. But I still listen to him constantly griping that I’m a no-good layabout because I don’t work. As it stands now, I am trapped. I am in the house 24/7, have no vehicle and have no money. He is not likely to give me any money to hire a lawyer for a divorce. He gives me 10 or 20 dollars every now and then. I am 58 years old and need to get established somewhere, somehow; I am afraid I will be on the street. I have no family to speak of. Having said all this, because we have no children and because the assets are pretty cut and dried – house (which he has already had offers on), he has a 401K, and we have a car that is worth some money, can’t I file for a divorce on my own with the assets just split down the middle? Tennessee is an equitable state. I don’t need spousal support if I can just take what is rightly mine and leave to go where I can find a job. I don’t want any furniture – he can have it all. However, I know that when it comes to money (which he thinks is all his and rightly so) and any kind of authority telling him what to do, his true nature comes out – that of the devil. Thanks again for any help you can offer.

    • If you and he are in agreement on all issues, you can have a paralegal draw up the papers. If not, then you’ll probably need to have a couple of mediation sessions to get things figured out. Since it is cut and dried it shouldn’t be difficult to resolve. But in most states you can’t just make a decision yourself and proceed, he’ll need to participate. If he won’t, then you’ll need to get a judge to decide the division.

  12. My wife and i have been married 5 years. We got married while i was in prison. In the four years ive been home if she didnt pay for everything i gave her money to put in her account to cover it. I have sense decided i dont want children, so we are filing for divorce.

    My question is can i ask for alimony? Can i use her attorney to get it or should i hire my own. This sounds crazy but we have really been a team. Im not prepared to be on my own, all my money has gone into the business i was trying to create. It hasnt become profitable yet.

    We have a house
    Furniture and lawn equipment purchased specifically for me to use or earn money with. She has all the receipts, it all looks like it belonged to her. I just dont know what to do, i use that equipment for a lawn srrvice and snow blowing. Is she really gonna get it all?

    • Marital property acquired during the marriage is divided in some way in divorce in most states, and many states have provisions for alimony, though if you are able to earn a living there would probably be a fair wage imputed to you. But each state is different, so you’ll have to contact an attorney to find out the law in your state. If your wife has an attorney, that attorney can speak to you with your wife’s permission, but remember, he is employed by her, not you.

  13. My husband asked me for a divorce in Dec. 2013. He has worked out of state(OR) for 5 yrs which helped to break up the marriage. I don’t have money for an attorney and have downloaded a divorce packet for a joint dissolution from the Montana law library. We own a small business(not paid for) and a modular home(which is underwater) he says I can have both. He has pensions, IRA’s, a few stock, life insurances and his job supplies our health insurance. I have about 30 thousand in retirement savings and a small life insurance policy. Is this too complicated for a person to take on themselves? It has become obvious to me he is leaving all the heavy lifting in this divorce to me.

    • Before you make a decision, you should visit an attorney to find out what you are entitled to under state law. But to me it sounds as though he is taking everything with value and leaving you with everything that is in debt and therefore not worth much.

  14. VERIA BRANTLEY says:

    I’ve been served papers, all I want is part of my husbands pension, I know I can file for ssi benefits when the time comes but do I need a lawyer for this process or can I file on my own,

    • You don’t need a lawyer to get social security when the time comes, that is by operation of federal law. You’ll need to find out from an attorney how the rules work in your state re your husband’s pension.

  15. Yolanda says:

    Im in California , and divorcing a police officer after 17 years . He wants to low ball me on my spousal support and doesn’t want to share his retirement .

    Thing is both he and I have paid my attorney and feel that she have been the worst part of this divorce . I feel like its a lot of time wasted on her behalf and billed for me sitting in her office while she look for papers.

    Now we may have to go to trail and she is saying i don’t have enough money to go to trail . My ex makes so much more money then I and is ready to go to trail. I feel like Im getting the short end of the stick because my attorney is lazy and over billed me .

    I want to fire her but I don’t have the money for a new attorney . I feel like I’m being bullied by my ex cop husband and my attorney .

    can I stop the proceeding until i can get money to gather for a Help?

  16. I have known my husband for 10 years but we have only been married for almost one. Long story short, since we got married he has become emotionally abusive and controlling. I have no access to any of our financial information. He has managed to successfully isolate me from friends and family and has considerably lowered my self esteem. He also refused to work and made large purchases using student loans and the money I had earned. I’m ready to call it quits. I have been thinking about divorce for several months but wanted to make sure I did everything I could to repair our relationship before I contacted an attorney. I even suggested marriage counseling but he refused to go. I was going to ask for a divorce the day after our one year anniversary which just happens to be next week. Last week he got into a motorcycle accident. He does not have health insurance. Will I be responsible for half of this debt when the divorce is finalized?q

  17. My husband left me approx. a year ago. We have been married for 29 years and I have been a stay at home mom, for all of those years. We live in NC and the state requires a year separation before filing. It has now been one year and he is getting ready to file. He has refused to negotiate, concerning alimony(which I am entitled to), so I need to retain an attorney but I am currently unemployed> He has been supporting me since we separated. But what he gives me pays living expenses. I have no savings or liquid cash. I have no family to loan me money. But I need money to retain an attorney to protect my rights. Is there a way to get a loan even though I am unemployed and receiving spousal support?

    • Call your local division of your State Bar Association and ask them if there is legal help available for people in your position. An attorney may be willing to take your case and petition the court to get your husband to pay toward your legal fees, since he has income and you do not.

  18. I need help. I have a young person who married this guy when she was 19 to help him get his green card. Now he has stop supporting her. She wants to get a divorce what are her options. He makes a decent salary and i would imagine an 401K.

    Please advise thanks

  19. My question is regarding uncontested divorces.
    My wife and i will be married for 10 years at the end of the month, we have been seperated for over 2 years and i am wanting to file for divorce. I cannot afford a fancy atty and would love to get the packet and do it myself.
    Should i just come right out and ask her if this will work for us?
    I have a pension i am paying into and so does she, as far as i’m concerned i want nothing from her i just want this to be done but i don’t know if she is gonna want to fight over anything.
    She has a great job and so do i…i look at it like leave my retirement and ssi alone and i’ll leave yours alone
    Make sense?
    How do i ask her if this will work?

  20. I was forced by this bloke to accept his customary proposals of getting married , I was stupid to go ahead with it..
    he had an accident and got his leg amputated , as a young lady , I want a husband who will/is capable of looking after me, I do not want to be a sitter all my life..
    we stayed for only 6months , I moved out and am on my own , he still bothers me with all sorts of threatening emails, I said to file a divorce and he said that if one does not agree to leave , the divorce will not take place.
    Please I need assistance here…..

  21. My Husband of 4 years wants a divorce. No Kids, no large assets besides a car. I do not want to divorce for emotional, and religious reasons, but he has given up and does not want to try any more. He is an engineer and has made good money in the past and has the potential to make good money in the future. I was a student and homemaker prior to this school year, I started my first year teaching in September. He was laid off from his job and is currently a student working on his masters & a teachers assistant at his university. He has a small income and they pay for his classes. I am working now and making more than him. However, he has signed an Engineering job offer to start in June in Texas in which he will make 85,000 a year, double what I will ever make as a teacher.
    What do i deserve as far as compensation? I expect half of our savings/what we have in the bank, and my only other concerns are 1) our car we just paid off, 2) a loan that i took out while we were married, 3) spousal support?
    1) Car: We just paid off our car a few months ago…we paid for it mostly with the money he earned while he worked & I went to school & took care of hte house. I feel that I should get the car because I am the primary signer because I had better credit than him at the time, I have a full time job right now that i need reliable transportation for, and because of his career/income, he will be able to buy another car a lot sooner than I ever will be able to. are these valid reasons I should keep the newer car? (also I have an older year 2000 car that i brought into the marriage, he can keep that if i get the newer one)
    2) My loan. I have student loans of $11,000. I came into hte marriage with 5,500. Then while i was continuing school while he worked, he wanted me to get another loan offered 5,500. We did not need it, he made enough to be able to eaisly pay for my classes. The thing is that as a teacherm I can get these loans repaid after i work for 5 years as a teacher. so we have not paid them. he took a loan to under his name…that we did not need, but paid it back right away, but not mine. Can I legally ask him to pay my loan…or at least 1/2 of it i got while we were married? What if I don’t teach for 5 years…or I change careers, I will have this unnecessary loan I need to take care of. and that is not fair :(.
    3) Spousal support. Yes I am currently making more money than he is, but prior to this, most of the time we were married he was making good money as an engineer & has a guaranteed job starting in June earning about 3,800 every 2 weeks. I earn 3,770 a month, for 10 months, so as a teacher I WILL NOT BE RECEIVING A CHECK FOR 2 MONTHS IN THE SUMMER. When we asked for either 10 months or 12 months of a check we said 10 because we decided that he would have an income in the summer to cover those months & we will be fine. Yes he was laid off, and we do have a good savings, but he has been benefiting from my income these months that I have been working. Remember this is his choice to throw away 4 years of marriage, and I am devastated and don’t want to divorce :(. I have taken care of our apartments, cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning (including taking out the trash…he hardly ever, ever does it :( ) bills… (no im not perfect and have made some mistakes and not always always on top of everything, but im human & was studying & now teaching full time).
    -Do I deserve spousal support for those 2 months I won’t have a check (mid june to mid august) when he will have a good job. & am I deserving of more because we were married for 4 years and he is leaving me?
    Those are my main concerns, if I can determine what I am deserving of, he would like to do it without a lawyer so that we can not waste any of it in legal fees.
    Another point, he is very verbally abusive & was physically abusive a few times, I reported him & he is currently going through the process/court dates… he has one more. So that should factor in to what I am deserving of.

  22. I live in California and was with my husband since the age of 14 and he was 20. We got married when I turned 21 and were married for 11 years before we separated in 2011. We never had kids and most of our marriage I was a homemaker because he made good money and said that if I worked we would owe too much back in taxes. When we separated I left with only my clothes and the car that we had which he continued to pay until it broke down 8 months after I left. He also paid me $600 a month for the first 2 years which helped, but was nothing compared to how I was used to living with him. Now he has filed the divorce papers and I’m not looking for spousal support, but he sent the MSA (Marriage Settlement Agreement) papers and he is requesting that I don’t receive any of his retirement and only half of the community furnishings which he got rid of when he moved to a new place without asking me if I wanted any of it. I’m wondering if it would be foolish of me to sign this document and walk away with nothing after all of these years. He also dropped me from his health benefits without my knowledge leaving me with none. Am I entitled to Anything here?

    • Of course it would be foolish to walk away from your share of the community assets, without receiving anything in return. Consult an attorney immediately to ascertain your rights as a result of the 11 year marriage.

  23. My spouse filied for a divorce we have not yet been married for ten years is he still entitled to half my 401k

  24. Mindy Higginson says:

    I have a question on doing a divorce on our own. My soon to be ex went to speak to a lawer and know says that we had to have parenting classes and that the judge is going to throw our case out because we didnt do this before our court date, I didnt know anything about a class. Is this correct?

  25. Hello Ginita, thank you so much for creating this site. My situation is as follows, I stopped working when I got pregnant and since stayed home to take care of my son. He is now two years old. I want to get a divorce. I would like to know the best course of action to ensure I get custody of him. Do I need to look for a job? And if so, get him into day care now? We own a house. I have a degree and can find work. I also have my own savings account. I would love to still take care of my son until he goes to preschool, but I want to make sure I can have custody of him. Another question is, filing for separation or divorce while we are still living in the same place? He doesn’t want to leave, and I don’t have the means to find my own place. I don’t know even if I did how it would work with a small child. I live in California.

    • Talk to an attorney as soon as you can about how custody and child support work in your jurisdiction, and what would be required of you. Generally both parents are awarded legal custody and then the child’s time is split between the parents in whatever way is in the best interests of the child.

  26. By that I mean, how it would work to move out. I don’t think I can pack up a child and move him with me.

  27. Brittany says:

    I want to file my own divorce papers without a lawyer because it would be cheaper but my husband has a retirement plan. I don’t want any of it. Is there any kind of paperwork I can fill out or something so I wouldn’t have to get a lawyer?

    • If you give up assets to which you are entitled, such as a retirement plan, your divorce will be quite expensive even if you file your own papers, because you will have forfeited thousands of dollars. Please consult with an attorney to get their advice before you do anything. You can still prepare your own papers, but you need to be making informed decisions.

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