Divorce is a legal procedure for ending a marriage. Often, we think of divorces as contentious, with costly hearings held to settle arguments over assets and children and your fate in the hands of the court. But if you and your spouse agree on all issues to be resolved in your divorce, you may be eligible for a summary divorce, saving you court appearances and money.
What is a summary divorce?
A summary divorce, sometimes called a simple or simplified divorce, is a streamlined divorce proceeding. Most jurisdictions offer some form of summary divorce. In a summary divorce, the parties submit to the court their written agreement on issues like the distribution of property. If the agreement covers all of the relevant divorce issues, leaving nothing for the court to decide, and otherwise meets the other statutory requirements for a divorce, the court may grant the divorce without the parties ever having set foot in the courtroom.
Who is eligible for a summary divorce?
Summary divorces are usually reserved for simple cases, where the parties are in complete agreement and marital property at issue is minimal. Most jurisdictions allow a form of summary divorce where the case meets criteria like these:
- The marriage is of short duration, usually five years or less.
- There are no children of the marriage, natural or adopted.
- The marital estate—the property owned by either or both spouses—is relatively limited. Some jurisdictions even limit summary divorces to cases in which the parties do not own any real estate. Some states limit the amount of personal property owned by the parties as well.
- Both spouses waive the right to receive spousal support or maintenance.
- Some jurisdictions are even less stringent, requiring only complete agreement by the parties without regard to whether the divorcing parties have children or significant assets.
Why would I want a summary divorce?
A summary divorce may cost significantly less than a traditional divorce case, both in time and money. In a traditional divorce case, you may be required to appear in court one or more times. If you are representing yourself, the only cost to you is your time. But if you have an attorney representing you, each court appearance is likely to cost you more money because attorneys often charge an hourly fee. If you are eligible for a summary divorce, you could avoid racking up attorney’s fees for court hearings as well as avoid the costs associated with your own time appearing in court, such as time off work.
Do I need an attorney to get a summary divorce?
Some jurisdictions allow spouses to represent themselves in a summary divorce proceeding, and many even provide forms to help the parties do so. Check your local trial court’s or state government’s website for information on whether such forms are available in your jurisdiction.
Who can I ask if I need help but don’t have an attorney?
Many jurisdictions have organizations that provide free, or pro bono, legal assistance in certain cases. There also may be charitable organizations that provide no- or low-cost legal assistance in your area. Check with your state or local bar association or, on the Internet, search “pro bono” or “legal services” plus your state’s name to find any charitable legal service providers near you.