How to Write Your Own Divorce Papers

by Teo Spengler ; Updated March 15, 2018

Traveling down the divorce highway is never a pleasant journey. But you can reduce the costs by learning how to write your own divorce papers. Don't think this calls for a degree in Creative Writing. In most states, you begin a divorce by completing specific forms, including a petition or complaint for divorce and a summons. Tackling the initial paperwork yourself isn't a good idea in every case, but it's worth considering if you and your spouse are in complete agreement about the divorce, have no minor children and no property.


  • Generally, you initiate a divorce by filling in forms provided by the court, including a petition or complaint for a divorce and a summons. You may want to tackle the initial paperwork yourself if you and your spouse are in complete agreement about the divorce, have no minor children and possess no significant property. The details are usually outlined on a court's self-help website.

Representing Yourself in a Divorce

Before you worry about how to draw up your own divorce papers, you first need to determine if it's a good idea. While you may wonder if the only reason that divorce attorneys advise against it to feather their own nests, court representatives also offer warnings. State and local laws and procedures can be complex, and. in most states, self-represented litigants are held to the same standards as attorneys. That means that to handle even a portion of your case you must have a good understanding of both statewide and local Rules of Court.

Generally, you shouldn't consider handling your own divorce paperwork unless your divorce is a simple one. That means that you and your spouse agree on the divorce and the property settlement. If you have minor children, real property or extensive personal property, or if you have been married for many years, you probably should not. That is a long way of saying that you should not represent yourself in a divorce that is complex or likely to become complex.

How to Draw Up Your Own Divorce Papers

To learn how to write your own divorce papers, first visit your family court website. Many courts offer "self-help" information for people who want to, or, for financial reasons, need to divorce without hiring legal help. This information walks you through the forms that your state, county and city require. You can learn where to get the forms and how to complete them. If your court system doesn't have a self-help website, visit the court to see if there is a family court facilitator who can assist you.

Generally, you will need to file at least two documents to initiate a divorce: the petition or complaint, a legal document that starts a case. You'll need to include your name, your spouse's name, and the date of the marriage, as well as addresses and contact information. Many states require a period of residency before you can file for divorce, so you may need to stipulate how long you've lived in the state and/or jurisdiction.

You'll also need to state the grounds for divorce. All states permit no-fault divorce, but some still allow you to get a "fault" divorce, putting the blame on the other party. If you are filing a fault divorce, you may want to get an attorney to represent you, since the odds are that your spouse will contest a finding of fault.

Fill out the petition form and sign it. Then prepare a summons (sometimes called a "citation"). This is the document that advises your spouse about the case. You will need several copies of each document as well as the original to file with the court. You may have to file additional papers, depending on what your jurisdiction requires, so be sure to ask before you pay the filing fee. Yes, you must pay a filing fee, and it can run into hundreds of dollars.

About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.