There are many options for divorcing without an attorney:
You can sit down at the kitchen table and work it out between the two of you in an amicable divorce agreement. You can work with a mediator — either a certified divorce mediator, or a therapist, attorney, financial planner or even a trusted friend who can help sort out difficult points of negotiation. These two options fall under uncontested divorce.
You can also take the matter to court and duke it out before a judge — and pay in terms of money, time, stress and agony.
Together, you will create a divorce settlement agreement outlining everything your state requires you to agree on, as well as any other items that are important to you, regarding sharing custody and expenses of the kids, and splitting any assets you have and how each of you will behave moving forward (for example, that neither of you will speak ill of the other one to family or friends). Learn more about you should include in your settlement agreement: How to file for divorce 101 — the basics
Using online divorce paper services can be helpful in collecting all the necessary divorce papers for your state, and getting instructions for how to file them. Here is our review of the best and cheapest online divorce services.
If you and your spouse are amicable, you can collect all the divorce papers from the local courthouse, sit down with a divorce settlement worksheet and agree to terms of the split yourselves. Then, you can file with the local courts. Depending on where you live, you may need to make an appearance in court to finalize the breakup.
Then, you file all the divorce papers in your local courthouse, pay the related fees, and then wait for them to be processed. Some states require that you appear in court for the finalization, but others will simply mail you your final divorce papers.
Many divorcing couples use a hybrid approach: working out most of the details between the two of you, but having a family attorney review your final settlement to make sure that there are no technical errors, and that both parties' interests are represented in a fair way.
Even if the divorce is friendly, before you officially file for a divorce, it helps to talk to an attorney or mediator to make sure that you are protecting your children, yourself and your financial interests.
If you are not working amicably with your spouse on the divorce, you may need to hire an attorney who will manage this process for you. Your ex then will also likely hire an attorney. Then, both camps can hash out a divorce agreement, which will then be filed in the courts. Or, you may have to go to trial if you can not come to a divorce agreement outside of court.
If you think that you and your spouse can work out the terms of divorce yourselves, without expensive lawyers and threats of going to court, then here's what you should know about amicable divorces:
What is an amicable divorce?
An amicable divorce means that both spouses agree to the terms and conditions without a court trial, and without lengthy attorney negotiations. Couples divorcing amicably typically either agree to terms of the split by themselves, with the help of a mediator, a therapist, or through the collaborative process.
12 tips for how to have an amicable divorce
These agreements include property division, spousal and child support, visitation and custody. Amicable divorce does not mean that the spouses are friends, or even friendly — but they are not at war, either.
- Focus on being fair and honest, and aim for compromise.
- Be kind — to our ex (this is hard for him, too), yourself, and those around you. This is a loss and change for everyone.
- Expect it to be hard. “Amicable” is nice word, and sometimes this process is referred to as a “friendly” divorce — or you may seek mediation or a collaborative process. A positive vernacular, but all very hard and painful.
- Commit to full financial disclosure, and no sneaky business to keep your income low.
- Do not threaten or aim for majority time with the kids. Studies show 50/50 parenting schedules are best for children — and moms' income
- Set up a co-parenting plan, and consider parenting classes for divorced families.
- Aim for no child support or alimony — women and men can now support themselves financially, and should. Best work-at-home careers for moms
- Commit to self-care. Divorce will go down as one of your most difficult and painful experiences.
- Find a positive tribe. One study found that when divorcing couples receive negative feedback from their friends and family (“Take him for all he’s worth!” “I always hated that bitch! Make her pay!”) the divorce conflict was higher than in separating couples who had kinder support networks. 5 friends every single mom needs
- Open yourself up to rewriting your ideas about who you are — and who you will be going forward. Let go of your old identity as a married person. 5 limiting beliefs that keep single moms broke, angry and alone.
- Work through any guilt you may have about leaving him/her.
- Recognize that this process establishes the tone of your new relationship going forward. If you share children, your husband or wife will be in your life for a long time.
Depending on whether you are using a single mediator, representing yourself or each of you have your own attorney, the spirit of an amicable divorce hearing is the same: Each of you wants to get out of the marriage in a way that is fair, quick and low-drama. In some states you must appear before a judge to finalize your divorce, but often your attorney or you can file settlement papers with the courts directly and do not have to appear.
How much does an amicable divorce cost?
While an average divorce costs each spouse $15,000 each in attorney fees — or $30,000 total — a DIY divorce can cost as little as $100 or less, depending on the filing fees in your state.
What is part of an amicable divorce checklist?
Whether you are working with a mediator, or directly with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse, it is helpful to have a divorce settlement checklist to make sure you have all the paperwork and agreement items covered.
Start with this free divorce settlement checklist, and consider:
- Marriage certificate
- Wills, trusts and other docs that may need to be amended after the divorce
- Login information for all your shared financial and legal accounts
- Documentation of any outstanding debt, and a plan to share that debt, including student loans, credit card, personal, medical, home and auto notes. Sell your house for cash in 24 hours? What you need to know
- All bank account statements, and an agreed-upon plan for how any funds will be shared
- Retirement and investment account statements, and a plan for sharing these funds
- Documents about any real estate that is part of the marriage, and how related assets, debt or rental income will be divided. How property is divided in divorce
- Documents about any business that is part of the marriage, and how related assets, debt or rental income will be divided
- Agreement for who is responsible and who gets any automobiles owned
- 2 years of tax statements, and plans for tax filing in the divorce year
- Custody, time-sharing plan for children
- Plan for expense sharing for children
- Any child support or alimony to be paid
What to expect at an amicable divorce hearing
Today, you can expect that hearing to be via Zoom or another online meeting platform, though as courts open up that is changing. Attorneys and judges are backlogged thanks to Coronavirus shutdowns, and it will likely take longer than usual to finalize your divorce. Here is what happens in a divorce hearing when you file an uncontested, or amicable divorce settlement:
- You or your attorney will file your signed and notarized divorce papers at your local court house.
- You and your husband or wife will appear in front of the judge, who will ask you a few questions to make sure that all of the forms have been completed thoroughly, and willfully.
- The hearing typically takes less than 30 minutes.
- The papers will be signed. In some states, a formal record will be mailed to you in some weeks or months later.
What is the best amicable online divorce company?
The best way to file an amicable divorce is by yourself — with no company at all! That said, even the friendliest of divorcing companies choose to have an attorney look over their paperwork to make sure it is all filed correctly, and many rely on sites like 3StepDivorce.
3StepDivorce gives you all the divorce forms, and settlement agreements that you need for your state, to file your divorce by yourself, for a $299 flat fee — including detailed filing instructions for your state. A+ Better Business Bureau rating and free 24/7 phone support, and 100% money-back guarantee that the papers will be accepted in your local court house.
Why an amicable divorce is best for your children
You can convince yourself that your children are not affected by the conflict of your divorce, but that is a lie. Your children pick up on all the tension between you and their other parent.
Also, it is very hard to move from a high-conflict divorce into an amicable, healthy co-parenting relationship. By committing to a low-conflict, amicable breakup now, you start your new life as peacefully for the whole family. Studies show that an equal, 50/50 parenting schedule is what is best for children.
Amicable divorce paves the way for equal, happy co-parenting, which has been proven by 60 peer-reviewed studies to be the best arrangement for children in separated families.
In other words: Do not create any more bad memories or things to fight over during the divorce. You did that already when you were married.