Summary and Default Divorce
Summary and default divorce fall under the category of uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, spouses are able to come to an agreement on all the major issues without much court involvement. Uncontested divorces can be advantageous because they tend to take less time and ultimately cost less money than contested divorces. Summary and default divorces in particular demand limited court filings or appearances and in many cases can be completed without a lawyer.
Spouses married for only a few years (usually less than five) with no significant assets or debts may be eligible for a summary divorce, or “dissolution.” Many states offer summary divorce as a less time-consuming and costly alternative to contested divorce. The exact requirements for summary divorce vary by state, but states may require that spouses do not own significant property, like a home, that they do not have children from the marriage, or that they will not ask for spousal support. Essentially, spouses who qualify for a summary divorce will have little entanglement.
If a divorcing couple meets the requirements for a summary divorce in their state, they may file the forms required by the court (usually available on the court’s website; Justia’s 50-state survey, above, has links to these forms as well). The court will require a filing fee and most likely a waiting period. After fulfilling all the requirements, the spouses will ask the court to file an order granting the divorce. This final step may or may not be included in the fillable forms on the court’s website, so read carefully. A divorce is not complete until the final divorce order is signed by a judge.
Summary divorce is relatively inexpensive. Most summary divorces will not require hiring a lawyer, but you can hire a lawyer at any time, even if just to review documents or offer advice. A divorce lawyer can help evaluate your options according to your specific situation.
A default divorce describes an uncontested divorce in which only one spouse participates in divorce proceedings. Usually, this means that the other spouse is unreachable, but some states allow spouses to agree to a default divorce.
In the instance of an unreachable spouse, a default divorce will begin after one spouse files for divorce, makes a genuine but unsuccessful effort to serve the other spouse with the divorce papers, and then asks the court to enter a default divorce. A court will probably not enter a default divorce until the filing spouse certifies that they have made reasonable efforts to locate and serve their spouse. The specific requirements of service vary by jurisdiction. A court will likely ask the filing spouse to detail their efforts and give the other spouse a reasonable amount of time to respond. The filing spouse should also be aware that if the other spouse makes an appearance within a set amount of time, they have the right to intervene or ask the court to overturn the default judgment if it has already been entered.
In some states, spouses can obtain a default divorce by agreement. In this case, the spouses agree on all the major issues, but only one spouse files for divorce, and the other does not respond. The filing spouse then asks the court to sign the final judgment of divorce. Spouses using this option benefit from minimal court fees. An agreed default divorce may also be the best avenue when neither spouse contests the divorce, but one spouse wants no part in the process. Each spouse may still seek a lawyer’s advice if they pursue an agreed default divorce.
A summary or default divorce may be the best option for eligible divorcing spouses hoping to keep costs low and court involvement minimal. Most courts accommodate spouses seeking an uncontested divorce with little to no lawyer involvement. Some even offer self-help services with clerks who can assist in the process.
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