Smart Person’s Guide to Divorce

Updated April 6, 2021

Divorce, dissolution of marriage or separation present legal challenges during an emotional time. In this otherwise serious area of law, we acknowledge the creatively direct message by a Chicago law firm, “Life’s short. Get a divorce”.

Realize that every case is different. Some are simple; others, not so. Only you can decide if you can do this yourself, perhaps with some assistance from an attorney.

Is my case going to be easy, or hard?

Divorce cases generally follow one of two paths, uncontested and contested: The parties reach an agreement, whether on their own or with the assistance of a mediator, then submit that agreement to the court for approval to receive a divorce or dissolution decree ending their marriage according to the terms they’ve agreed upon; or, if unable to agree, the case will go before a judge who will consider evidence like financial records, witness testimony and expert reports on issues such as valuation of property and custody arrangements. Uncontested divorce cases demand a lot less from you, both financially and emotionally.

Buy a self-help book; Download legal forms

If you are able to work together and the issues aren’t too complex, you may be able to manage your dissolution case without having to hire a lawyer. You can buy a self-help book with tear-out forms. Shop for divorce forms, nuptial agreements and other family law legal forms and downloaded them to your computer where you can complete and print them, ready for filing, as needed.

Divorce, separation, child support, pre-and post-nuptial agreements:

Online legal research is now easy and free

Once available only to attorneys paying high prices to access specialized legal databases, you can now research the laws in your state – even find and learn from cases where similar issues have already been decided – using’s Legal Research tool.

You might need an attorney if …

But if either party becomes uncooperative or there are complicated issues in the case (e.g., most dissolution cases require a family law attorney’s assistance with income and retirement account calculations, or pre- or post nuptial agreements), you should consult a family law attorney. You can search the Attorney NetworkSM to find the right lawyer.

If you’re more interested in being assisted through the process, rather than fighting (which is costly both in money and emotional terms), look into Collaborative Divorce where each spouse has an attorney who watches out for their legal rights but practices in a more cooperative style than traditional litigation. Using the collaborative approach, the parties and their attorneys agree to discontinue if the process becomes adversarial.

Hybrid Approach: DIY + Help

You can get help when you encounter a question or would like to have a form you’ve completed checked by someone before you submit it. Many courts have staff and/or volunteers to assist people representing themselves pro-se. There are also legal service plans available that give you access to attorneys who can answer your questions over the phone and even review and offer advice on documents you’ve prepared. LegalShield is available throughout the United States and Canada. New: Uncontested dissolution services as a basic membership benefit! Call an Independent Associate at who can assist you with your membership. The toll-free number is 800-253-7271.