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How to Get a Divorce Without Going to Court

Dmytro Liubchenko

By Divorce.com staff
Updated Dec 27, 2023

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Are you contemplating divorce and wondering how to avoid lengthy court battles? If so, you’re in the right place.

This article will explore practical strategies and alternative methods to navigate divorce without going through traditional courtroom trials. We share several divorce methods that can help you and your spouse work out a resolution outside the courthouse.

Stay tuned to learn how to get a divorce without going to court and choose the best way forward in your unique circumstances.

Important note: When discussing divorce without a court appearance, we mean avoiding a full-scale divorce trial. However, brief court appearances to finalize a divorce may still be necessary, even for simple uncontested cases.

Key Takeaways

  • Divorce doesn’t always equal a trial. Alternative methods, such as mediation or uncontested divorce, can help couples avoid going to court.
  • The likelihood of avoiding a court appearance depends on the spouses’ agreement about property division, child custody, and post-divorce financial support.
  • A brief court hearing might still be necessary to finalize an amicable divorce.
  • Opting for a peaceful resolution can save time, reduce conflicts, and minimize divorce expenses.
  • Laws regarding divorce in each jurisdiction may vary. Thus, seeking guidance or contacting court officials for information is essential.

Can You Get a Divorce Without Going to Court?

Yes, you can get a divorce without going to court by using mediation, collaborative divorce, or pursuing an uncontested divorce. These approaches involve negotiation, agreement, and cooperation between spouses outside the courtroom.

However, even the out-of-court divorce settlements must still be approved by a judge.

Contested and Uncontested Divorce: Is Court Appearance Needed?

The need for a court appearance depends on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested.

Contested divorces usually require court visits, while uncontested cases may be finalized without going to court or by only requiring a brief formal hearing.

However, both divorce types may have some circumstances allowing you to skip the court appearances partly or entirely. Read on to find out the specifics.

Contested Divorce

In a traditional contested divorce, where the spouses cannot agree on divorce terms, they will likely have to appear in court. During several hearings, the judge will resolve all critical disputes regarding child custody, property division, maintenance, and other relevant issues.

Apart from deciding these matters, the spouses can expect to attend one or two court hearings on interim issues, including temporary support and resolving disputes on financial disclosures.

The court’s intervention almost always extends the divorce process to months and even years, depending on the number of unresolved conflicts between the spouses.

Here are a few reasons the parties must visit the hearings and can’t just send their divorce lawyer to handle matters without their presence.

  • The spouses might be required to present evidence and testify before the judge.
  • The judge may need to assess the credibility of witnesses and ask questions to gather additional information.
  • The court must evaluate child custody decisions and hear both parents’ proposals and evidence supporting their claims.

In some cases, the spouses with contested divorces can avoid the final trial if they agree on divorce terms at one of the pre-trial court hearings. It’s not uncommon for couples to settle issues after such discussions.

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce, where spouses agree on all essential issues, doesn’t usually require going to court. It may even be possible to avoid the final hearing altogether. In some jurisdictions, you only need to file divorce papers and a settlement agreement signed by both parties. After that, the judge will look through the paperwork and grant a divorce if everything is in order.

Although you can avoid lengthy trials by choosing an uncontested divorce, you may still have to go to court for a brief final hearing. It may take about 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the circumstances.

The judge will carefully examine and approve the settlement agreement you and your spouse prepared outside court. They may ask you questions to check if the agreement is voluntary and fair.

After that, your divorce will be final.

Uncontested divorce rules in your jurisdiction may differ from what you expect. For this reason, you should contact the court clerk or consult an attorney to determine whether your local court divorce filings include a court appearance.

E-filing system

E-Filing System

In the past, the only way to file for divorce was to visit the court clerk’s office and hand in all divorce papers in person. Now, you can bypass frequent court appearances by mailing or filing your documents electronically.

Certain states and counties have implemented e-filing systems on their court websites.

Electronic filing is available in Texas, Alaska, Colorado, California, Florida, Georgia, and several other states.

You can use official court websites or an “Odyssey” system in some jurisdictions. In several states, such as Iowa and Illinois, filing divorce papers through an online portal is mandatory.

The options for electronic filing may differ from state to state. For example, some websites offer fillable electronic forms, while others require pdf scans. Sometimes, both options are available.

Once you prepare the necessary documents, you can log in to your E-filing account and submit them electronically. You must pay applicable court fees online unless you file a fee waiver form. Typically you’ll pay via credit card or electronic check.

Using the E-filing system, you can reduce your in-person court appearances during the filing process. However, the final divorce decree must still be approved by a judge who might have questions for both spouses. In these cases, a court appearance may still be necessary.

How to Get a Divorce Without Going to Court

There are many ways to avoid going to court for a divorce trial.

Some types of divorce described below will give you a solid chance to skip court appearances or reduce them to one brief hearing.

How to Get a Divorce Without Going to Court

Do-It-Yourself Divorce

If you're on speaking terms with your spouse, you can choose a do-it-yourself divorce (DIY) to end your marriage. In DIY divorce, you collect and file all the paperwork and go through the divorce process without a lawyer.

This option typically works well for couples with a no-fault divorce.

A DIY divorce also means that you and your spouse must agree on property division, child custody, and child support. You should also decide whether one of you will get spousal support after divorce.

If you agree on all these matters out of court, your divorce will be uncontested. These divorces usually spare their participants from frequent court visits.

In some states, like California, you can expect not to attend a final hearing if your filed divorce papers are in order.

Here are the main benefits of a DIY divorce:

  • A DIY method is the cheapest way to get a divorce and can save you thousands of dollars in legal fees.
  • You have more control over the decisions and the process by setting the pace and completing the papers when convenient.
  • The DIY divorce lets you maintain a greater confidentiality level.
  • A DIY approach simplifies divorce proceedings and may help you avoid court visits.

Although a divorce without a lawyer is an excellent way to save money and time during a divorce, it also has several disadvantages:

  • You’ll have to locate all the court-required divorce forms by yourself.
  • Filling out the blank forms is often complicated without legal help or consultations.
  • You may spend hours searching for the correct documents and figuring out how to fill them out.
  • Without guidance, you lack understanding of your legal rights.
  • You risk getting an unfavorable outcome because of inaccurate paperwork.

As you can see, the biggest issue of a DIY divorce is paperwork, which is easy to handle using an online divorce.

Online Divorce

Online divorce platforms, such as Divorce.com, allow you to enjoy the benefits of a DIY divorce and bypass its drawbacks.

Online divorce services simplify the process of getting divorce papers quickly and easily. For example, at Divorce.com, you and your spouse can complete your legal forms automatically by answering an online questionnaire.

Your answers will be used for generating the necessary divorce paperwork ready for instant filing with the court.

Online divorce with Divorce.com is cost-effective, fast, and stress-free. You can rely on our experienced and enthusiastic team to get you divorce-ready quickly.

Find out more about how to get a divorce online by clicking the link: Step-by-Step Guide: How To File for Divorce Online

Divorce Mediation

Mediation is an effective tool to help couples agree on divorce issues in a calm and productive environment.

This process involves a trained mediator facilitating discussions between the spouses. Usually, you don’t need a lawyer and can find a mutual resolution with your spouse and the mediator’s assistance.

The end goal of mediation is to agree on divorce issues and sign a settlement agreement.

It becomes enforceable and legally binding once you file it with the court and the judge approves it. Until then, you can drop the mediation and choose another path.

Here are the main benefits of mediation in a divorce:

  • You have more control over the divorce outcome because you actively participate in decision-making.
  • Mediation is less costly than litigation since you don’t need a lawyer.
  • Mediation sessions offer privacy and a safe space for negotiations.
  • You have more freedom to develop alternative solutions, whereas litigation is less flexible.
  • You set the pace and decide how quickly you want to resolve the disputes.

Mediation also has several drawbacks, including:

  • Mediation is not an option in situations with power imbalance between the couples. In these situations, one spouse may influence the outcome more than the other.
  • It’s difficult to negotiate high-conflict divorces with many unresolved disputes.
  • Mediators cannot provide legal advice, so you must rely on your judgment.
  • Mediation may not provide the required financial discovery and evidence as litigation.

Mediated divorce may require a court appearance in certain circumstances and jurisdictions.

For example, the judge might need clarification about some provisions in the settlement agreement, so you must be present to answer questions.

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is a method of resolving divorce disputes outside the courtroom. Each spouse retains the attorney, and the four participants negotiate a settlement agreement.

They can also invite other professionals, such as property appraisers and financial experts, for consultation.

If everything goes well, the spouses sign the agreement and file it with the court. However, if collaboration is unsuccessful, each spouse must hire a new attorney and proceed to the divorce trial.

Collaborative divorce has several advantages compared to traditional litigation, such as:

  • A collaborative process allows you to get faster results if both spouses are committed to working together and reaching mutually acceptable agreements.
  • It gives you more control over the divorce outcome and lets you address personalized needs during the process.
  • Collaboration promotes respectful dialogue and helps ex-spouses stay on good terms after divorce.
  • Collaboration promotes finding creative solutions to problems and offers more flexible ways to reach an agreement.
  • All negotiations and sensitive information the parties discuss during collaborative divorce stay private.

Apart from numerous benefits, collaborative divorce also has several downsides, including:

  • If you disagree on divorce terms, you must start over and hire new attorneys.
  • Collaboration doesn’t work for highly contentious divorces where spouses are unwilling to cooperate.
  • Collaborative attorneys might not advocate your rights as assertively as during the litigation.
  • Finally, it may add more expenses if the collaboration fails and the spouses must start over.

Divorce Arbitration

Arbitration in divorce is another alternative dispute resolution type where spouses agree to hire an arbitrator to resolve their disputes outside the court. The arbitrator is usually a private or retired judge or a lawyer.

Unlike mediation and collaborative divorce, arbitration involves presenting your case and paperwork to an arbitrator.

During the sessions, they will evaluate the evidence and decide how to settle the disputes. This decision is legally binding and becomes a final resolution to the divorce issues.

Arbitration in divorce has several benefits compared to a traditional divorce trial, including:

  • Arbitration is confidential, meaning the details of your divorce will stay private.
  • You can select the arbitrator and agree on the rules and procedures, avoiding the formalities of a courtroom trial.
  • Arbitration is faster than a divorce trial since you don’t depend on the court schedule and can choose when to set up a meeting.

At the same time, arbitration in divorce has some disadvantages, such as:

  • You can’t appeal the arbitrator’s decision in most cases. The grounds for challenging the arbitration award are limited to misconduct, gross unfairness, and fraud.
  • You don’t necessarily save money using arbitration since you must still cover attorney fees, arbitrator’s services, and other associated costs.
  • The financial discovery rules in arbitration may be more relaxed compared to litigation. So, you can miss some information crucial to your case.
  • The arbitration outcome heavily depends on the selected arbitrator and their interpretations of the family law or personal preferences and biases.

Summary

Court involvement is, in many cases, unnecessary to get a divorce, and so is a court trial with lawyers representing their client’s interests. Therefore, you can finalize a divorce without going to court instead, depending on the situation and jurisdiction.

If you want to skip protracted and expensive litigation, you can choose an alternative path, such as mediation, uncontested divorce, DIY divorce with online services, and collaborative divorce.

Doing so will save your nerves and time, not to mention thousands of dollars on legal representation. While you might have to attend a court hearing to finalize your divorce, it will be brief and straightforward—feeling much like a formality compared to a full-scale trial.

FAQ

Can a Divorce Be Finalized Without Going to Court?

Yes, you can finalize a divorce without going to court in certain situations. For instance, you can avoid court trials if you resolve divorce issues through an uncontested divorce, mediation, or collaborative divorce.

However, you might attend a brief court hearing, where the judge will review your divorce requests. Also some jurisdictions don’t even require divorcing couples to attend court hearings in case of amicable divorces.

Can a Lawyer Represent Me in Court Without Me?

Yes, a lawyer can sometimes represent you in court without your presence. For example, they may represent you in brief hearings to finalize the divorce where there’s a settlement agreement between the spouses.

However, your direct participation will require resolving such matters as property division, child custody, and support.

Do I Have to Be Present at My Divorce Hearing?

No, you don’t have to be present at your divorce hearing if it’s allowed by your local court. In some states, settled divorces with an agreement don’t require your presence, and your lawyer can represent you in court.

Researching your jurisdiction’s laws to avoid trouble, such as getting in contempt with the court, is always a good idea.

Do I Have to Go to Court For a Mutual Divorce?

No, you don’t need to go to court for a mutual divorce in some jurisdictions. Instead, the judge will review your settlement agreement and see if everything is in order.

If so, they will sign the final judgment, and the court clerk will send you a copy by mail. However, your court may sometimes require your presence for a brief hearing.

Do I Have to Go to Court For a Divorce With a Child?

Yes, in most cases, you must go to court for divorce with a child. Although certain jurisdictions enter a judgment based on the submitted documentation, divorces with child-related issues require court involvement. It doesn’t matter if you agree with your spouse about child custody and support.

The judge will need to protect the child’s best interests, so they will require your presence to make the right decisions.

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