Preparing Your Forms
In order to start the divorce process without a lawyer, you’ll need to complete some forms. The Kentucky Court of Justice has placed some, but not all, of the forms you'll need online. You can also go to your local courthouse or driver's license branch and request a complete packet of divorce papers for a nominal fee.
Another alternative is to go to the Legal Aid Network of Kentucky's interactive divorce form, which has an online interface that helps you prepare the correct form. The interactive divorce form is a free service. However, you can only use the interactive form if you don't have children and you agree about how to divide your property and debts. You'll need to gather the information identified in this bullet-pointed list in order to complete the interactive process.
The "petitioner" is the party who initiates the divorce, and the "respondent" is the party who receives the petitioner's divorce papers. The documents that the petitioner needs to begin the divorce process are:
- the summons and petition for divorce,
- the case data information sheet, and
- the certificate of divorce (instructions for this document, which can be prepared online and is called the VS-300, are located here)
Don't sign any affidavits, oaths, or sworn statements unless and until you're in the presence of a notary. When you work on the forms, be thorough and complete in responding to the questions. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly.
Filing Your Forms
When you’re ready, make two copies of all documents. Eventually you will give one to the other spouse and keep the other for yourself. The original will be filed with the court.
Go to your local county courthouse and ask to file the documents. As an unrepresented person, you’ll need to pay a fee to file your documents unless you complete the Affidavit and Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, which can be obtained from the clerk of court and will be reviewed by the court. If the court agrees that the fee should be waived because you can’t afford it, you won't have to pay to file documents in your case.
When you give your documents to the clerk of court, they will be stamped and a file will be created in the courthouse. Serve your spouse with a set of the signed, stamped photocopies as soon as possible after leaving.
Serving Your Forms
When you’ve prepared and filed your forms, you should immediately serve your spouse with the documents. Service of process is very important in the American legal system because it ensures that everyone has notice about what’s going on and an opportunity to “appear,” or argue, their point of view. Service of process ensures that no one is ever “ambushed” in a courtroom.
If you are the petitioner, it's important to know that Kentucky law gives you a maximum of 45 days after filing to serve your documents on the respondent. If you don't serve the papers within 45 days, the clerk of court will dismiss your case automatically, and if you still want to get divorced, you'll have to start over.
If your spouse is an adult who is pro se (meaning, has not hired a lawyer), then you should serve your spouse directly at the location at your spouse’s home address. If your spouse has retained a lawyer, serve the lawyer at the lawyer’s office and don’t send copies to your spouse.
If you are the petitioner and you will be serving your spouse within the State of Kentucky, special service rules apply. You have two basic options:
- you can send the summons and petition to the respondent directly from the courthouse via registered mail, or
- you can ask the sheriff to serve your spouse "personally" by physically handing him or her a copy of the summons and petition.
Different rules may apply if you are trying to serve someone who is hard to locate, in the military, or in jail. Check with the clerk of court for more advice in these unusual situations.
Both the petitioner and the respondent have to complete a Preliminary Case Disclosure. This document details each spouse’s financial picture, from employment to assets to liabilities and monthly expenses. Certain supplemental documents, like pay stubs and tax returns, may have to be attached. This helps everyone to understand more about, for example, how much child support should be paid, how the property and debts should be divided, and whether one spouse should receive alimony. Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form. File it with the court and serve it upon your spouse as well.
The petitioner must file the preliminary case disclosure within 45 days of filing the divorce papers at the courthouse. The respondent must file the preliminary case disclosure within 45 days of being served with the summons and petition.
If you need extra help or if you just have questions, the Legal Aid Network of Kentucky hosts a divorce topic page that offers information and resources on divorce and parenting issues.
If you need extra help, you can ask for help by contacting Kentucky's legal services programs, which serve low-income and elderly Kentucky residents with legal problems.