Just as not all marriages are alike (especially unhappy ones), not all divorces are the same. Whether you're ready to file your divorce papers or are simply considering whether it's time to end your marriage, you should know about the different ways you can go through the process.
Our quiz can help you decide which option is best for your situation. But here are some general guidelines.
While the details depend on the rules in your state or county, there are three basic paths to getting divorced:
These options aren't mutually exclusive. For instance, a mediator could help you reach a marital settlement agreement, which would then allow you to get a DIY uncontested divorce.
Also, you may decide to work with both a lawyer and a mediator. For example, you could hire a lawyer to help you behind the scenes during mediation and to draft or review any settlement agreement that you've reached during the process. And even if you've decided it's best to have an attorney represent you throughout your case, you may still use mediation at any point during the process.
You can probably get a DIY divorce when you and your spouse have been able to agree on the important issues—on your own or through mediation—and you don't have substantial or complicated assets to divide. If you don't have the time, patience, or inclination to track down and complete all of the divorce paperwork, you could use an online divorce service that will provide you with the proper forms, completed based on your answers to an online questionnaire.
You should strongly consider hiring a divorce lawyer in some situations, such as when your spouse already has an attorney. This is especially true if you've been served with divorce paperwork signed by that lawyer—a sign that your spouse is ready for a fight over the issues. Navigating a contested divorce—when you and your spouse haven't agreed on the issues before starting the legal process—can require knowledge of complex laws, legal procedures, court policies, rules of evidence, and legal strategies. You would be at a severe disadvantage if you tried to take on an experienced family law attorney without your own lawyer who can advocate on your behalf, protect your rights, and get the best possible result for you and your family.
It's also important, if at all possible, to have a lawyer advocate on your behalf if you've experienced domestic abuse. And you should at least speak with a family law attorney when you haven't been able to reach a settlement agreement or when your case involves other complicated issues like splitting retirement accounts or a family business.