Divorce Without an Attorney

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  • DIY Divorce

    (2 replies)

    Hi all,

    I already checked the archives but couldn't find anything up-to-date or that really matched what I'm looking for. ISO recommendations/advice for a DIY divorce. Preferably something where the forms can be done online. We have been separated since July 1, 2009 and I have been paying child support since fall of 2009. I have one 17 year old who lives with me full time as of 2019 and I'm claiming him on my taxes. Prior to that my ex did. We want to do the divorce ourselves without a mediator or attorney - there is no property or other assets to divide. Any recommendations for online or other ways to simply get this done? Thanks.

    Check out “Hello Divorce” - many online forms. It was very helpful for me.  The founder is a great local family law attorney and very smart. https://hellodivorce.com/

    Hi there.  My ex and I did a DIY divorce using the NOLO press book back in 2001.  It was really easy and if I recall for a small fixed fee there was a NOLO-associated attorney to answer the couple of items we still couldn't make sense out of.  So, so much cheaper to do it yourself, especially if you two are cooperating.  I think this link has essentially the updated version of what we used back then: https://store.nolo.com/products/nolos-divorce-bundle-nodvbun.html  Good luck to you.

  • Can anyone recommend an experience paralegal to prepare our separation/divorce application?  We are in agreement on splitting up our assets and just need help preparing and filing the paperwork with the court.  Also, if you have been through the process without attorneys, do you have any regrets or advice? Thank you.

    I used California Document Preparers, on Grand Avenue in Oakland, for a loan to be recorded against a property.  They were very knowledgeable and helpful, and handle divorce along with many other issues.  They are open for business virtually :-)

    Divorce with Dignity Cindi Elwell Alameda helped us in around 2012.  She was excellent.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Nov 2015

Filing divorce stipulated agreement without attorney

My soon to be ex and I are about to file the paperwork for divorce. It's very amicable and we've agreed on everything regarding children and assets. We want to file this ourselves without using an attorney. We are planning to submit a stipulated agreement. I went to the courthouse today in Oakland and was told that the agreement has to use certain legal language otherwise the court might reject it. This seems odd. Is this true? Do we need to hire an attorney just to write the agreement in legalese??

Has anyone on this list submitted a divorce assets/custody agreement written by themselves and have it be just fine with the court?

My ex and I are in the process of doing the exact same thing. The thing about legal language is that exists for a reason: it is very, very precise. You don't really need an attorney if you aren't litigating, but it's true that the court seems to want legal language and the precision it brings. What we have done is work with a mediator to help us figure out what we want, and a paralegal to help us navigate the system. Our mediator is Robert Terris, and he's been very helpful. There are things he has alerted us to that the court will demand that never occurred to us庸or example, even though we would rather not have any money exchange in child support, the court will be looking for that and will probably reject an agreement that doesn't include it. If you don't need a mediator's help (you've worked it all out between you, using things like the Nolo books on the subject), you might hire a specialist paralegal to help with the paperwork and the legalese. We've been working with Divorce with Dignity, based in Alameda. We're not finished with the process, but so far so good. We've taken the position that it might be better to spend a little now to make sure the process goes through faster. divorces need doulas too, turns out

Hi, my ex-husband and I used California Document Preparers for the divorce filing process. I started out trying to do it myself too thinking that this should be something people can do for themselves if they agree on everything - and it should be, but it apparently isn't! I found it impossible to understand all the forms and procedures, even after visiting the self-help center at a county office. The people at California Document Preparers are basically paralegals (they're not attorneys) and they do uncontested divorces all the time. It cost $799 (plus the filing fee you have to pay the county regardless). I still think it's ridiculous that people can't get through an amicable divorce on their own, but as that wasn't feasible it was a relief to go through them. JM

Can I file for divorce without a lawyer?

Jan 2014

My wife and I are seeking an amicable divorce. We have no property and one 14 year old child, and want it done peacefully. We agree on how to split everything. How about Divorce With Dignity? Has anyone used their filing service? Jose

I've done 2 divorces in two different states, the last one a contested divorce with all the trimmings. The NOLO book used to be the key resource; they've changed their authors and offerings since I did my divorce, but this is still a good place to start: http://www.nolo.com/products/nolos-essential-guide-to-divorce-NODV.html

The book on contested divorces, great for custody issues, is Out Of Print, but still available via used book sources: http://www.amazon.com/How-Your-Contested-Divorce-California/dp/0944508332 And Ed Sherman, the originator of the How To Do Your Own DIvorce in California is back with the same title, but not under the NOLO imprimatur: http://www.amazon.com/How-Your-Divorce-California-2013/dp/094450888X/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1

I also engaged about an hour and a half of lawyer, through a service designed just for the purpose of assisting Pro Se contestants, and I paid a process server. Overall, it was not difficult, and I saved a ton of money. IF the two of you can STAY amicable, it should be even easier. The hardest part was being in court, and seeing what people will do to each other and their kids, mostly over money, but also over un-winnable (by either party) power struggles. Family Law Self-Practitioner

First, you must determine if your divorce will truly be amicable. My former spouse and I talked about being amicable, but were not really in agreement about most major issues. We started out well, though, since we had little property and could easily agree on what should go in what household. However, the amicability stopped there. She would not agree on a mediator, despite many efforts on my part, hence delaying the divorce and having to make any support payments. Now, 2 years and many hearings later, we are almost close to finishing it. If you do decide that all will go smoothly, try the Nolopress divorce books. However, if you are forced to file for a default judgement or any other unusual process, the Nolopress books will only confuse you. See a lawyer and save your family the misery. Nolopress Dropout

I am a collaborative divorce attorney and mediator. I recommend Denise Foster at Divorce with Dignity for many of my clients who have agreements on all material issues, but need help with working on the paperwork, etc. Denise is very knowledgeable and can help you navigate the process. Good luck! Camille

Hi there! I would recommend you NOT use Divorce with Dignity. Their tactics are not at all how they portray the business. My ex used them and they filed papers saying they had my consent, all before I knew he was even filing for divorce. She also tried to tell me I had to pay $100 to be served.

You can absolutely file without a lawyer. I'm sorry for your divorce but so glad you can both be mature about it. Go to your local court house and ask about their free services for advice, and understanding the paperwork. Family Law Self Help Center, I believe it's called. I remember they are all interns, preparing to be lawyers. Very helpful and caring!! Bonus if you can go together, you'll get all the info and be able to ask questions together. The info (technically not advice) is free and comprehensive, but you then have to pay to file. Not too much, $400 I think. If you truly agree on every detail, it'll be quick and painless, paperwork wise.

Also, there's a great program for families who are getting along in divorce called KidsTurn. You guys may want to try it, for your kids sake. My ex wouldn't go, but my 3 kids and I learned alot. Good luck! it pays big to be mature

I have three friends who did their own divorce, meaning created their own agreement and filed the forms. All three used the nolo book. Two regretted it because they couldn't foresee the problems that would arise. One of the two made agreements that were not really binding in some important ways. The other who regretted did not address stuff that is always covered by attorneys. The third who did their own filing did fine. But they are unusual and do not fight at all. It's almost like they are still happily married! I would say you take a risk by doing it all yourself. You might file all the forms okay but you might not write a solid agreement that covers all the possiblities. (I used a mediator, larry rosen, in berkeley. Excellent experience. A neighbor used eva herzter in berkeley. also said good things..). helen

Someone to handle the divorce paperwork

May 2013

Someone posted recently about a woman in Alameda who is an 'expert' at filling out the paperwork for a do-it-yourself divorce. She is not an attorney. I can't find her name in the archives, and I would GREATLY appreciate her name. Thank you. anon

Divorce with Dignity, Cindy is AWESOME! The divorce was so easy AND she did wills for me a few years later. Highly recommended. Divorce With Dignity-Alameda, 1151 Harbor Bay Parkway, Ste. 126B, 510-522-2600 Anon

Unemployed son needs a reasonable lawyer

April 2009

My son is currently unemployed and has been separated since Nov. He has a 2 yr old and wants at least 50% custody. His wife gave up her older son to his father. He needs a sweet, strong, understanding, and reasonable lawyer. sue

Perhaps your son does not need to retain an attorney at all - especially if he wants to save $6,000-$30,000 lawyers' fees and keep the divorce as amicable as possible (research has shown that getting lawyers involved makes divorces more contentious, time-consuming & sometimes hideously expensive). He should buy the book & CD set ''How to Do Your Own Divorce in California'' - it contains all the forms needed, plus the phone number of their Divorce Helpline, where he can ask questions of a lawyer if he needs to, for a very reasonable fee. This is what my ex and I will be doing. If his ex-wife did not contest custody in her previous divorce, I'm sure he can get her to agree to half-time custody - and it's best for kids to see a lot of both parents, unless they are abusive or incapable of parenting. If they need one, they can hire a mediator to resolve difficult questions - there's a good non-profit mediation service in Berkeley (http://www.seedscrc.org/services/mediation.php), or pay the $130/hr the private ones charge. Avoid the divorce industry - it's not the only, or best option. I'd also like to recommend Kidsturn, an organization to support kids and parents who are going through a divorce - you will find a website & workshops locally. Good luck to him, his ex & his child. C

Don't have a lot of money - looking to file myself

April 2007

I checked out the BPN website for recommendations on filing for a divorce, but the postings dated back to 2003. I am looking for suggestions on filing for divorce. I have been separated from my estranged husband since 2004. We did not have children together nor assets so I am assuming that this would be an easy process. I don't have a lot of money to spend so I'm looking for the most economical method to acccomplish this goal. Please help! Thanks. Anon

If you believe there will be no arguments regarding the divorce/division of assest/etc, then a paralegal might suffice for your purposes. Otherwise, the next most affordable option is likely to use a divorce mediator. You can also choose to file all the paperwork yourself (and involve no one but a Nolo Press book for guidance), or have the paralegal/mediator file it all for you.

I've heard good things about: Divorce with Dignity Cindy Elwell, Paralegal (510) 523-7290

Divorce Mediator (economical) Maria Joseph mljoseph [at] comcast.net (510) 869-5301


I divorced inexpensively twice by doing it myself. I bought the Nolo Press book on doing your own divorce. It's not perfect and can be confusing, but with patience you can file your own paperwork. The actual filing fees are somewhere around $200 (it's been a while so I don't remember exactly). In simple cases (no kids or property, short marriage) your spouse doesn't have to file or reply; you get a default divorce.

As a back up, I used Sherman, Williams & Lober at 800-359-7004. They are located in Soquel, CA, but you work with them strictly over the phone. They bill your credit card on a per-minute basis. Both times I did my best with the paperwork, and when I got stuck I prepared all my questions, called them, and got very good, very fast advice on what to do. They were actually very kind and understanding, too.

I had some complicated issues. The first time there was property and a child involved and I had to attend one child custody hearing; the second time I was divorcing someone who was mentally ill and had to set up an agreement between us to cover issues of spousal support. Both times I was still able to do all my own filing. Good luck! Eva

Hi. Don't know where you reside but I'm assuming you're here in the Bay Area. I work in the San Francisco Family Law unit specifically hearing divorce cases and San Francisco has a free legal advice room called ACCESS at their civic center courthouse. You can seek advice there and they will provide you with specific directions as to what you need e.g, which papers to fill out so you can represent yourself in propria persona (meaning you represent yourself without an attorney) in the courtroom. Family law attorneys are expensive, so with no real estate or kids, please, don't bother with attorney fees. I'd also suggest you purchase a copy of a book entitled, MAKING YOUR RECORD written by a panoply of courtroom staff providing terrific information as to how to perform in the courtroom with or without a lawyer. It's a courtroom guidebook that gives you all the nuts and bolts as to courtroom protocol in simple everyday language. You can buy yourself a used copy on Amazon. The better prepared you are, the less expenses incurred, and the easier you make the job for the judge and the courtroom staff to help you with resolution. If you and your ex can stipulate (meaning come to an agreement) beforehand, it makes things flow even smoother!! Good luck!! Legal Beagle

My husband and I have been together 5 years. We each have been through prior divorces. He has nothing good to say about his ex or their life or divorce together (therefore he says very little), but he still comments many times (when general subject is brought up by others) about the excellent experience he had with Divorce With Dignity dwdignity.com married with dignity

Pick up the Nolo Press book on Divorce in CA. It costs about $35. There are forms and instructions on where to check to make sure you have all the correct forms. Also, there is a listing of people who will fill out the divorce forms for you, for a nominal fee, so they will already have the correct forms. My divorce cost me a little over $500 four years ago since my Ex and I could come to agreements on our own and niether of us had much money for an attorney. Happily and cheeply divorced

I divorced my first husband for less than $200 if I remember correctly (this was in 1988, so it was a while ago). We lived in Boston, did not have any children, and - most importantly - both agreed to the divorce. A lawyer friend advised me that I could do it cheaply by going to the courthouse in the district where we lived and filing everything myself. I picked up the paperwork, we both filled it out and signed it, and then there was a waiting period after we submitted it (a cooling down period, to make sure we really wanted to divorce). After that was over, we were summoned to court. It was surreal. There were about 15 couples in the room, all filing for divorce. Each couple took turns walking to the front of the room to speak to the judge. When we got up there, he asked if we had children (No) and if we both agreed to the divorce (Yes). And voila - we were divorced! It took another couple weeks for the official paperwork to come through, and that was it. cclocke

Here is a great website for your situation: http://www.lawca.com/self_help/properdivorce.htm

Then you can go to this site to download the forms: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/family/divorce/

Also, ask about the Family Law Facilitator in your county; if you are in Alameda county, there is one at 1225 Fallon in Oakland, near Lake Merritt. Good luck. anon

Doing divorce myself, need help with custody papers

May 2002

my divorce, although very painful, is not contested. I am doing it myself, following the example of a friend. My situation is more complicated though, because I have a small child. I do not know which papers I need to fill out for custody schedules, and how to find the obbligatory formula for child support that the state of California requires. Someone knows this information? Also, someone mentioned that she used a paralegal to do her divorce, with children, and it costed only $300. Please, can you tell me name and phone of whom you used? Or how to find a paralegal with experience in divorce? Thank you very much. Laura

''How to Do Your Own Divorce in California'' explains it all. Using it, and it's companion, ''How to Do Your Own Contested Divorce in California'' I did my own, with rather complicated issues, and with my wife using an attorney (who's bills I paid half of, but let's not go there...).

The various non-attorney divorce services were once called ''Typing Services'' since that's about all they can legally do. they cannot provide you with advice. There are quite a few of them in the Yellow Pages, I've never used them , but ''Expert Legal Aid'' on Fruitvale has been there for at least the last 8 years I know of , and longevity is one clue to small business quality A Divorced Parent