divorce paperworkGetting an uncontested divorce involves two main processes: reaching agreement on all the necessary issues and submitting the required divorce paperwork to the court. Submitting the paperwork also has two parts: getting it prepared it and filing it with the court.  Here I focus on getting it prepared.

Divorce Paperwork Options

There are several ways to go about this in California. In order of increasing cost they are:

  • do it yourself;
  • use an online service;
  • hire a paralegal or legal document assistant;
  • ask your divorce mediator to prepare it; and
  • hire an attorney.

The paperwork required by the court is substantial and fairly complex. Therefore doing it yourself is challenging. If you decide to give it a try, two excellent resources are the court’s website and Ed Sherman’s book How to Do Your Own Divorce in California. I also have several posts that you might find helpful.

Online divorce services are an attractive option for many couples. They generally charge between $150 and $300 and guarantee that your divorce paperwork will be accepted by the court or they will give you your money back. All these services have an extensive questionnaire that you fill out online. They generate your paperwork based on your answers to the questionnaire. These services are meant for simple divorces in which you have already agreed on everything. They don’t file your divorce paperwork; you get detailed instructions on how to do this yourself.  One of the longer-established and better ones is CompleteCase.com.  Although they guarantee that your paperwork will be accepted, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be accepted the first time you submit it.

Paralegals and Legal Document Assistants (LDAs) will prepare and generally file all your divorce paperwork for a fee which is usually in the range of $700 – $1100.  Paralegals work under the supervision of a lawyer.  LDAs may operate independently.

Divorce mediators prepare a document at the end of mediation listing all of the divorcing couple’s agreements.  However, most divorce mediators don’t prepare all the divorce paperwork required by the court unless they are also either a paralegal, LDA or an attorney.

Lastly, you can have an attorney prepare your divorce paperwork. In all likelihood, someone in the attorney’s office will prepare the paperwork under the supervision of the attorney.

Not all the paperwork is filed at once – even in an uncontested case. First the divorce petition must be filed to start the case. Then the other spouse must be served the divorce papers and a filing is required to let the court know this has been done. Sometimes the spouse who has been served the petition then files a response. There are financial disclosure forms that the spouses must exchange and again the court must be notified in writing. Lastly a “judgment package” setting out the agreed terms of your divorce must be filed.

To add further complexity, there are three different approaches to writing up your agreements in the judgment package:

  • transfer all the terms of your agreements onto court forms;
  • prepare a “stipulated judgment” in which the terms of your divorce are written up in a document; and
  • prepare a “marital settlement agreement” which is a essentially a lengthy stipulated judgment that can also stand on its own (outside the divorce) as a legal contract.

The approach taken is largely a function of who prepares the divorce paperwork and their personal preferences in doing so. Complex divorce settlements and those involving considerable property usually merit a stipulated judgment or marital settlement agreement.

When I work with couples, I normally refer them to a capable Legal Document Assistant who will also take care of all required filings.  If cost is a big issue for the couple, I may help them with an online service.

After a recent presentation that I gave, a lady came up to me afterwards. She found it hard to believe that a divorcing couple couldn’t simply file their settlement with the court to get their divorce. Hopefully someday it can be as simple as this. In the meantime, we have to live with the current process which is largely built around the assumption that the divorcing spouses are adversaries.