Going through a divorce is stressful and having to pay an attorney money to fill out the forms can make it expensive, as well. If a couple is in full agreement about divorce issues like property division, child custody and child support, it may be feasible to fill out the paperwork without getting legal help. Many courts have self-help centers that provide the requisite forms for getting a divorce as well as instructions and tips,
Overview of Divorce
It's much easier for a lay person to tackle the paperwork required in a divorce if she understands the process and where each piece fits in. Divorce is one of those matters that state laws regulate, which means that there is not a uniform procedure across the country. Rather, anyone thinking of handling her own divorce will have to learn the rules and procedures of the state in which she is filing and sometimes the local rules of the court.
Generally, the legal document initiating a divorce is called a petition or a complaint. In California, for example, it is termed a "petition for dissolution of marriage." It basically tells the court, the person's spouse and the public that this individual has filed for divorce. In states like California, the person filing the complaint must also file a summons, a document that informs the other spouse that he must respond to the divorce action within a certain period of time. In other states, the clerk prepares this document.
Both the summons and the complaint, and often local cover sheets, must be served on the other spouse. This usually means handed to him personally by someone who is not a party to the action. The spouse may file an answer or any of a number of other documents in response to the petition.
Finding Divorce Forms
Divorce forms are available online from providers offering them free and others selling them. They are fill-in-the-blanks documents. A person doing his own divorce will want to be sure the forms he acquires are appropriate for his state and county. The best way to do that is to go to the website of the court in which he intends to file and download forms from there.
For example, the California court system offers a self-help website for those interested in learning about the divorce process and perhaps filling out their own paperwork. The website contains all of the state forms required to file available to download. While an interested party can download and print these divorce papers, the self-help website provides much more than the forms. It offers an overview of the California process of divorce, from filing the case, to responding to the petition, to finalizing the divorce.
California is far from the only state offering this type of help. Many state courts provide online forms and help for individuals wishing to do their own family law papers, including Massachusetts, Texas and Montana.
Using Online Forms
While forms provide a format for filling in a divorce petition, they are only useful if a person uses the correct ones. In many states, the forms required for a divorce are different if there are minor children involved, since custody and child support will be part of the package. Often the court will provide one form packet for a divorce with minor children and a different packet for a divorce without minor children.
Using online forms that do not come from the court presents risks. Anyone versed in the law may be able to avoid the pitfalls, but for a layperson, court forms with specific, clear instructions will be much safer.
And, if the divorce is contested or adversarial, it is especially important to get the steps right. For example, most forms ask for the date of separation without reminding the user that the date can be a critical matter in property division in community property states. When in doubt, have an attorney review the forms before submitting them.