I want to break free!
June 13, 2005 6:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm in NY, married a little less than four years, no kids, no property, no major assets, and I want a divorce. I make too much for the legal aid people to help me (22,000), so I was thinking of either using an online service or doing everything myself. How had is this going to be, really?

I'm planning to use the cruelty justification (ny does not allow no-fault unless you have a year seperation first, and I don't want to wait that long).
He is willing to sign and said he won't do anything to stop me, so I don't believe we'll have to go to court.

Are there any books people recommend, or particular online services? I'm trying to do this for as little money as I can. Maybe a nice lawyer in the Buffalo, NY area who would let me pay on an installment plan?
posted by Kellydamnit to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to NY, but I did my own divorce in Washington state (which is a no fault state). We were similar to you in that we had no property or major assets, and had no other disagreements regarding the divorce. From my experience, as long as both parties are in agreement and there is nothing to fight over, the divorce paperwork is pretty straightforward. I went to a stationary store across the street from the county courthouse where I picked up a packet of all of the required paperwork with detailed instructions. As I recall, it cost me around $30. I then spent a few weeks methodically working through the paperwork, filling everything out exactly per the instructions. My (now) ex signed everything, and I filed the paperwork with the county. There was a mandatory time period between the initial filing and when the actual divorce hearing could be scheduled, and the hearing went very smoothly. I think the total elapsed time was about sixty days and we were divorced.

As long as you are both in perfect agreement I would highly recommend this route. If the two of you start to argue over anything at all related to the divorce, then it's time to bring in the lawyers.
posted by Lokheed at 6:54 AM on June 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Here are the forms you will need. Here is a short FAQ that might help. And more info here, with good links as well. This ought to get you started.

I more or less got my own divorce in Maine, meaning that I filed all the paperwork by myself, although my husband did hire a lawyer to write the official separation agreement, which in turn became the divorce document. The paperwork I did was reasonably straightforward, but you still may find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed from time to time, especially if you're not used to dealing with the court system at all -- to me it felt like everyone was speaking a jargon I only half understood. But I got through it, and looking back it was pretty simple.
posted by JanetLand at 7:08 AM on June 13, 2005

I did the same as Lokheed in Washington State except that I used a book from Nolo Press. No kids, no property, agreeable disposition of cat custody. Anyway, Nolo Press are the go-to guys for anything related to self-help in the legal field.

If you are affiliated with a university in any way you might want to check and see if they have a legal clinic.
posted by matildaben at 7:10 AM on June 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I live in Florida and handled my own divorce but we had the option to do the quick and easy - no fault with both parties in total agreement (and it was supereasy to divide assets because we kept our finances separate throughout the marriage, had no kids, etc).

I filled out all my papers and his as well. It was pretty stressful but I was able to get some advice (when some of the language was unclear in a couple of the questions) from other friends who had recently divorced and from an attorney friend.
posted by superkim at 7:19 AM on June 13, 2005

FWIW, I went through an amicable divorce under similar circumstances in Texas, though there was some property involved. We used a mediator, who wound up charging us about $200 IIRC. Each of us then had to consult separate attorneys to look over the proposed settlement (I think this was mostly the mediator covering her own butt), which was a pretty trivial expense. After that, it was just the filing fees.

The $200 for the peace of mind that everything was according to Hoyle, and for letting someone else actually spell out the terms in legal language, was money well spent IMO.

Good luck.
posted by adamrice at 7:50 AM on June 13, 2005

I got divorced under very similar circumstances in Buffalo. We used a lawyer. He had us pay half of the fee upfront, the other half of the fee to close, and the court costs in the middle. It wasn't too expensive (he was cheap compared to other lawyers I called), but it was about three times as much as it would've cost to do it by ourselves. We figured it was easier to have a lawyer in our situation, and it did help because they do know how to word things and navigate the system (which would have been stressful for me), but honestly it was nothing we couldn't have done alone. It will take about three months or so from start to finish if everything goes smoothly. If you want more info, my email's in my profile.
posted by Melinika at 8:25 AM on June 13, 2005

There is a book for just this in California, which I used. I checked Amazon and there is a similar book for New York. Using this book, my ex and I wrote a marriage settlement agreement and then used a third party to file the paperwork. It seems a trivial bit, but it was nice to have someone whose handled the raft of paper before to make sure all the t's were crossed and to make sure it all ended up in the right place at the right time. The cost was minimal and we split it.
posted by plinth at 8:37 AM on June 13, 2005

You might want to check out We the People, a paralegal document preparation service in NYC. They'll make sure you get all the paperwork right and charge a lot less than a lawyer - the one on my street has a fixed rate advertised, $199 I think.

If the divorce isn't amicable, though, you might do well to find a lawyer.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:49 AM on June 13, 2005

Problem is that the "cruelty" standard in New York is actually very high -- you have to show that your spouse threatened your physical or mental well being, and you have to detail the incidents with specificity. In the end, your husband may not want these kinds of allegations against him put down in ink, and you might yourself end up wary of exaggerating the facts before a court. And every so often a New York court refuses to grant a divorce on the cruelty ground...

All in all, it would be simpler for you to go the "separation agreement" route and just wait out the year. If things are a simple as you say, I'm sure you can just use one of the books on NY divorce to do it yourself.
posted by insideout at 8:49 AM on June 13, 2005

I'm planning to use the cruelty justification

what's the real justification? if it's really cruelty, then it may be worth hiring a lawyer, as yr ex is unlikely to readily agree that he's actually in legal terms been threatening or otherwise cruel to you. If it's really that you've "fallen out of love", then a year's separation is probably not such a bad idea; you made a life-long commitment before the law, after all, so taking time to reflect and adjust is not unreasonable. If it's really that you've met someone new, if you're legally separated, you can still pursue that relationship.

on preview, what insideout said.
posted by mdn at 9:03 AM on June 13, 2005

Use a lawyer, if you can swing it (ask around). Mine was a woman, cost very little, and the peace of mind is knowing that the bastard can never claim any future assets of mine.
posted by puddinghead at 9:19 AM on June 13, 2005

No, it is cruelty, and he's admitted it. He has a substance problem, hasn't had a job that lasted more than a week in two years, and I've caught him stealing from me on numerous occasions.
I honestly can't afford a lawyer. I have about $100 a month for food and gas after my bills, but I make too much for free legal help and don't have access to a university.

So therein lies the problem. I wake up every day worried someone will come for my car or I'll get a bill in the mail for something he's done because we're still legally bound. I've been planning to leave for a long time, and just couldn't afford it until recently.
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:20 AM on June 13, 2005

How about some legal clinics? There's one for NOW where it specifically says no one will be turned away for inability to pay. Is your spouse going to contest the divorce? If not, the Bar Association has a free clinic. It sounds like you could benefit from some advice just on protecting your assets.

Congrats on making this move that you've been thinking about for a long time. Good luck to you
posted by jasper411 at 10:00 AM on June 13, 2005

You're in Buffalo, right? So the NYC resources probably won't help you in person, but maybe the NYC bar association can mail you some materials on pro se divorce ("pro se" = w/out a lawyer.)

It seems like the financial/credit problems are pressing -- maybe you should take a look at this book from Nolo Press on Divorce and Money. They also have an article on how to hire a lawyer that looks helpful here.

If you do decide to hire a lawyer, try asking coworkers and acquaintances in Buffalo. Nothing like a personal reference.

Good luck!
posted by insideout at 10:48 AM on June 13, 2005

Call women's shelters and see if they know of someone doing work for sliding fees. And good luck- getting out was the best thing that ever happened to me, on multiple levels (and will be for you, too).
posted by puddinghead at 10:57 AM on June 13, 2005

Yeah, contacting NOW & other women's groups is a good idea, and remember that if you get someone not particularly helpful one time, it may be worth trying again - these places are often not very well organized, and rely on a lot of volunteers and interns who won't necessarily have the info in front of them. But if you call again you'll get a different volunteer, or you could ask to talk to the project manager or something, and you might get better info. It seems like that's what you really need- information.

this page says you can get that information from your county offices. I would put aside a few hours to call the county clerks / courthouses / etc and push for details on which set of forms you need and where you need to file them, and all the rest of it.

Expect to spend a chunk of time on the phone getting nowhere - it might not be bad, but it's worth assuming it will be so you don't get frustrated :). Best of luck.
posted by mdn at 7:03 AM on June 14, 2005

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