Divorce Without Lawyers

Female judge on the bench in a court room

Right up front I have to tell you that this is not legal advice, this is just the experience of one person doing his own divorce. I have to tell you this up front because, especially in Texas, even distributing forms and instructions can be construed as legal counsel. That threatens the sanctity of the lawyer’s domain (and their income) so they come after you with all the fury of someone defending their own children.

Woe to anyone charged with offering legal advice without a license. Remember, most judges were also lawyers. They protect their own, and in my opinion, that’s the sole reason law seems so complicated. However, it’s not that complicated.

If you can keep a to-do list and fill out forms, you have the skills necessary to do your own divorce. When I first started the process I thought I was getting myself in way over my head, but after following through and looking back, it turned out to be nothing. It was simple. My ex and I saved ourselves thousands upon thousands of dollars.

For it to work you need one thing: the ability to agree with your soon to be ex. If you two are so angry at each other you can’t agree on anything, and your goal is revenge instead of the basic separation of your lives, then get a lawyer. You can’t do a do-it-yourself divorce if you can’t agree on the terms of the divorce.

A divorce is nothing more than an agreement in writing that follows legal guidelines. You agree on who gets what, who pays what, who sees the kids and when, and then a judge gives a stamp of approval. That’s all a divorce is. That, and a stack of legal forms. Those you get from the Internet. If you go to Google or Yahoo and search Texas Divorce (replace your own state, of course) up will pop a plethora of ads and links for legal forms services.

For some of them, you pay around $300 and then talk to a paralegal on the telephone. They ask you questions and fill the forms out, then send the forms to you. What I did, I paid less and answered the questions online. They plugged my answers into standard legal forms that were in Microsoft Word format, which they emailed to me. What I ended up with was a set of instructions, and these forms:

  • Original Petition for Divorce
  • Waiver Of Citation
  • Final Decree of Divorce
  • Prove Up Script

With the exception of the Waver of Citation, none of these look like regular everyday forms. In other words, they don’t look like a credit application. It’s more like script that reads, “This is who we are,” and “this is what we want,” and “this is how we’d like to do it.”

That’s the key right there. Using the guidelines of the instructions that should come with your forms, figure out between the two of you exactly who gets what, who pays what, and how. When you have this worked out, you can proceed with form filling and filing.

The Original Petition is the one you actually file with the court. For me, it was a simple matter of taking several copies down to the local county clerk, forking over some money, and having them stamp them and assign a case number. I believe at this point you can opt to pay the court to have your spouse served with the papers — most people do that — but because my ex was in on all this and she was in agreement with the terms, I sent her a copy personally along with a Waver of Citation.

The Waver of Citation, if you can get your spouse to sign it and return it to you, tells the court that your soon-to-be-ex agrees with everything that is in the divorce, does not intend to challenge any of it, and in fact may opt not to even appear in court.

Next comes the cooling off period, designed to make you think about what you’re doing, and possibly to change your mind and stay together. This waiting period varies by state. Also, if there’s children involved, you may be required to attend a class for how to deal with children during a divorce. If you have children and you care about them, I highly recommend you attend this type of class even if it’s not mandatory. There are a lot of behaviors which to you may seem natural or even healthy, but which will mess your children up or even turn them against you. Take the class, read a book, do something.

Also during this waiting period, it’s time to go over the details of The Final Decree. You see, in the Original Petition, you’re declaring to the court that you intend to divorce. The Final Decree spells out the terms of the divorce.

That was the biggest surprise to me in this whole process — I’d wrongly assumed the court would dictate to us how the divorce would be. No, it’s you who decide the details, you write the decree. It’s YOUR divorce. You have to follow the guidelines, and the document service will have created a rather generic version for you, but it’s up to you and your spouse to add the details.

The document service should have also created for you a Prove Up Script. You may or may not have to modify this to fit your details, but make sure this is done and you’ve read it over out loud until you’re comfortable with it. This is what you will stand up and read before the judge, the formal request for the divorce.

When the waiting period is up, you contact the court and schedule a trial. I found I could do that over the Internet by filling in a form. In your case, it may be that you have to call, or perhaps even go down to the courthouse.

After you’ve got it scheduled, and the big day arrives, dress nicely and show up to the courthouse with copies of your Final Decree and your Waver of Citation (and/or whatever other documents are required for your state), and also bring that Prove Up Script. In the court, you’ll sit and wait while other business is attended to, and when it’s your turn you approach the bench, read your script, and hand over your papers. If all goes well, and all your paperwork is in order, the judge grants the divorce right then and there, stamps it, and it’s done.

I spent less than $500 for mine.

Good luck!

This article originally appeared in GroovyMojo.com back in 2007.

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