DIY Forms: Where to Begin

Do-it-yourself divorces are quite common. These are typical when the parties either have no (or almost no) assets or debts, no children, and a relatively short marriage. In those instances there are no issues to cause conflict like custody, spousal support, or pension division. Those couples often file as “co-petitioners” because the term seems more amicable and they can do a “summary divorce.” Even if issues like custody, parenting time, asset division, and spousal support do exist, many couples try to handle their own divorces to save money and the stress of involving attorneys. Both types can be handled on a DIY basis, but the results will depend on each party’s level of involvement, attention to detail of the pleadings, knowledge of the law and what they are entitled, and amount of time available to dedicate to the case.

If you want a DIY divorce, you can find the forms you need for any divorce or custody/parenting time case at your county’s courthouse. The family law or domestic relations facilitator can provide you with packets of the forms you need to fill out, have served on your spouse, and file with the court. However, the facilitator is not allowed to give legal advice, so you must fill the forms out on your own or seek help elsewhere. Going to the courthouse for the forms will cost a couple dollars for the packet but many of the counties have the forms posted for free on their court website. You can simply download the forms and print them out. This may be the best option if it’s available because you can do a draft and then finalize any documents without having to buy several copies of the packets since you can just print out another form.

I would highly caution you to not file as “co-petitioners.” There absolutely no difference between Petitioner and Respondent – one does not have any advantage over the other. However, many cases are later modified in some way. It becomes very confusing for the Court when each party is referred to as Co-Petitioner instead of as Petitioner and Respondent. I’ve heard from many judges that they wish the option to file as co-petitioners was not available because it is difficult to deal with on a logistical level.

Once you obtain the paperwork, you must follow the specific rules about filing and service of the paperwork. “Service” means delivering the documents to your spouse in a particular way to make them officially aware of the case. You must provide them with any documents you file with the court. However, you are not allowed to hand them to your spouse unless your spouse signs an “Acceptance of Service.” If this does not occur, the service is invalid. Further, if the responding party does not file and serve a Response within the proper timelines then they risk having a default judgment entered against them.

Timelines and requirements for service and filing of documents can be overwhelming, particularly because this is not something most litigants deal with every day as attorneys do. Our firm offers a “DIY With Help” option – we will help you fill out the forms and guide you through how to file and serve the other side appropriately so you ensure you’re complying with the rules. This is one way to feel secure that you’re saving your assets and doing your divorce on your own, yet still have some guidance on the law and how to protect yourself. If you would like to explore the DIY With Help option, please give us a call today.