In order to obtain a divorce without an attorney involved, you first have to establish the willingness of both parties to mutually agree to the divorce and research your state’s uncontested divorce laws. If both parties mutually agree to divorce and your situation fits the criteria of your state’s laws, then you can file the proper forms with the clerk at the courthouse and serve the other party according to your state’s policy for serving divorce documents.
In Pennsylvania, you can successfully file for an uncontested divorce without an attorney if you fit the following criteria:
- You or your spouse have been residing in the state of Pennsylvania for at least six (6) months prior to the date of filing the divorce complaint;
- If you and your spouse are living separately, you must know your spouse’s current address because this will be required for filing the initial complaint as well as following the guidelines for proper service;
- You and your spouse can establish a mutual county to file your divorce in whether it be the country of residence for either spouse (if living separately) or a mutually agreed upon county (an example court for an uncontested divorce would be Cameron County, Pennsylvania);
- You and your spouse have a solid agreement regarding property settlements and/or division of marital property (if applicable);
- You and your spouse are willing to sign an affidavit stating that you are willing to consent to the divorce;
- You and your spouse won’t revoke your decision to divorce within the mandatory “cool off” period of ninety (90) days after initial filing of the divorce complaint;
- You and your spouse have mutual agreement that either party does not wish to pursue spousal support or alimony through court order; and
- You and your spouse are comfortable with your understanding of the divorce forms and the information and documentation you are to provide to the court in support of your divorce case.
Once you establish that you fit the criteria for an uncontested divorce filing without an attorney, or in other terms “pro se”, then you can begin the step-by-step process of filing for divorce.
First, you will go to your local courthouse, or the courthouse for which you and your spouse decided to use to file your uncontested divorce with, and obtain the proper forms for filing the initial complaint. You can also search online through the government website (www.pacourts.us) in order to locate and review PDF versions of the instructions and forms you need to file for that county. You will need to search self-representation and then review the divorce proceedings section.
The initial forms are called Notice to Defendant, Complaint, Vital Records and Affidavit of Non Military Service The courthouse will have a general template available with blanks to be filled in with the information for you and your spouse. Please note, if you are the one filing the divorce complaint, you are considered the Plaintiff and your spouse is considered the Defendant. When filling in the blank areas, you must make sure that your name and your spouse’s name are spelled the same way as they are on your marriage certificate to avoid any issues.
Once you complete the Notice to Defendant and Complaint forms, you will make three (3) full copies and get all of them certified by the clerk when you file the complaint with the courthouse. You will keep one (1) of the copies for your own records, the other two (2) will be served to your spouse alongside the Complaint. Make sure to carefully read the guidelines for serving your spouse and follow the directions from start to finish to avoid having to pay additional fees and file additional paperwork.
When you file this initial complaint, you must pay the proper filing fees as well. If you cannot afford to pay the fees, you will be required to file a fee waiver request at the time of filing the Complaint. You must be prepared to pay the filing fee if the judge decides to deny your request. In general, the fees for filing initial divorce complaints are not very expensive and are feasible.
Next, you will fill out and file the form called the Affidavit of Service. Again, you must carefully read the guidelines for proper service. After filling out the form, you will make a copy to keep for your records. After you successfully complete the first portion of the divorce process you must wait a period of ninety (90) days. The Complaint must be considered “served” and then you can proceed to the next step of the divorce. This next step includes you and your spouse signing your Affidavit of Consent and Waiver of Notice forms with the court.
Upon signing these forms, you can then proceed to the final step of your divorce which is filing a Praecipe to Transmit the Record and Decree in Divorce, generally within thirty (30) days of the signatures for your Affidavits and Waivers. Please make sure to follow the directions of the court in order to file these forms at the correct times. Please be sure to always make copies to keep for your records to prove cooperation and procedural compliance on your behalf.
As long as you have confidence that your situation fits the above-mentioned criteria and you can fill out and file the proper forms and pay the required fees, then you should successfully complete the divorce process without an attorney.
*If you feel that your spouse is not going to sign the forms or is going to be uncooperative in any way during the divorce process, it is not recommended to proceed without an attorney.