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Do-It-Yourself Divorce

Representing yourself in your divorce case, without an attorney, is referred to as pro se divorce.

If you are considering representing yourself in your divorce case in the state of Missouri, you will need to use the forms approved by the Missouri Supreme Court and are advised to check with your local court to determine if additional specific forms are necessary. The forms can be accessed fully online and saved to fill in with your own personal information. As you enter information into the forms, "balloons" appear to prompt your responses for some entries.


Divorce Overview
Findlaw's Divorce & Family Law Center gives an excellent overview of the topic.

Divorce, referred to in some states as a dissolution of marriage, is a decree by a court that a valid marriage no longer exists. A judgment of divorce, the formal paper issued by the court, typically provides for division of property, makes arrangements for child custody and support, if applicable, and leaves both parties free to remarry.

Most divorces, perhaps more than 95%, do not end up going to a contested trial. Both parties are usually able to negotiate and settle aspects of their case, such as division of property, spousal support and child custody. Somtimes parties reach an agreement through mediation. This type of agreement is virtually automatic by the judge if it appears to meet a minimal standard of fairness.

Women who divorce may resume their unmarried name, keep their married name, or change their name to something completely new, as long as they are not doing so for fraudulent purposes. If the woman chooses to change her name, she should notify government agencies and private companies that have records of her name. Examples of places to notify: Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, Passport Agency (within U.S. State Department), Post Office, state and local tax agencies, driver's license bureau, voter registration bureau, professional licensing agencies, professional societies, unions, mortgage companies, landlord, banks, charge card companies, telephone companies, cable company, other utilities, magazines and newspapers to which she subscribes, doctors and dentists, and schools and colleges that she attended or that her children attend.

It can be useful to have the divorce decree state that the wife will resume her unmarried name, but generally it is not necessary to do so in order for a woman to make a valid name-change.


Divorce Timeline
Getting divorced is a complicated legal process. A general understanding of what's likely to happen can help you feel more comfortable at an uncomfortable time. Findlaw.com gives the following chronology of how the average divorce proceeds. State laws or specific issues between the parties may cause some differences.

  • To start the divorce, the petition (also known as a complaint), a legal document that says why the spouse wants a divorce and how he or she wants to settle financial, custody, and other issues.
  • The lawyer files the petition or complaint with the court.
  • The lawyer or the court makes sure that the petition/complaint is served on the other spouse, together with a summons that requires that spouse's response.
  • The served spouse has to answer (also called a response) within a certain time. The answer says whether or not the served spouse agrees with the petition/complaint. If he or she doesn't answer the petition/complaint, the court assumes that he or she agrees to its terms. The answer indicates how the served spouse would prefer to deal with divorce decisions.
  • The couple exchanges documents and information on issues such as property and income. By examining this information, the couple and the court can decide how to divide up property and how to deal with child support and alimony.
  • Sometimes, the couple can voluntarily resolve all their issues through mediation or settlement. Some states require that divorcing couples go through this process.
  • If a settlement is reached, the settlement agreement is shown to a judge at an informal hearing. The judge will ask a few basic factual questions and whether each party understands and chose to sign the agreement.
  • If the judge approves the agreement, he or she gives the couple a divorce decree that shows what they agreed to. If he or she does not approve it, or if the couple does not reach an agreement, the case will go to trial. At trial, attorneys present evidence and arguments for each side, and the judge decides the unresolved issues, including child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, and property division. Once the judge has reached his or her decision, the judge grants the divorce.
  • Either or both spouses can appeal a judge's decision to a higher court. But it's unusual for an appeals court to overturn a judge's decision. Also, remember that settlements usually cannot be appealed if both spouses agree to their terms.
  • The entire process can take from as little as a few months, to as long as several years. Generally speaking, the more the couple can cooperate and agree to reasonable compromises, the smoother and faster the divorce will go.

 

Library Resources
Nolo's essential guide to divorce - A step-by-step guide through every aspect of the divorce process.

Divorce after 50: your guide to the unique legal & financial challenges - Besides basic legal information, postdivorce health-care coverage, retirement benefits and estate planning are also discussed.

Divorce & money: how to make the best financial decisions during divorce - Offers practical and proactive advice to help protect yourself and safeguard your financial future.

Building a parenting agreement that works: how to put your kids first when your marriage doesn't last - Sets out 40 issues separating parents typically face, and presents all the options to resolving them.


Other Resources
Legal Services of Missouri - Provides free legal representation to low income clients in a number of civil legal problems.

Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association - Offers a local lawyer referral service with 50 categories to choose from.

The Missouri Bar - Gives insightful information and an individualized lawyer referral for a small fee.


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