How Do I File for Divorce in Nebraska?

Learn about the steps you’ll need to take to start the divorce process in Nebraska—and how you can get help.

By , Retired Judge

Along with the emotional and practical issues involved in ending a marriage, the divorce process itself requires navigating the legal system in Nebraska. While that might seem overwhelming, it doesn't have to be all that difficult, particularly if you and your soon-to-be ex can cooperate. Here's what you need to know to get started with a Nebraska divorce.

What to Know Before Filing for a Nebraska Divorce

Before you begin the process of filing for divorce (known as "dissolution of marriage") in Nebraska, you should figure out the answers to a few preliminary questions.

Do You Meet Nebraska's Residency Requirements for Divorce?

In order to qualify for a divorce in Nebraska, you must meet one of the following criteria:

  • you or your spouse maintained an "actual residence" in the state for a least one year just before filing for divorce, or
  • you were married in Nebraska, and at least one of you has resided in the state from your wedding date until the filing date.

In Nebraska, having your residence in the state means that you lived there with the purpose of making it your permanent home. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-349 (2022).)

Do You Have Legal Grounds for Divorce?

As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in Nebraska. Many states allow divorce based on both "fault" and "no-fault" grounds. When you file for a fault-based divorce, you are claiming (and must prove) that your spouse was to blame for the end of your marriage by engaging in certain kinds of misconduct (like adultery, desertion, or cruelty). In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse is accusing the other of wrongdoing.

Nebraska has joined a growing number of states in eliminating fault as a basis for divorce. The only ground for divorce in Nebraska is that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-361(1) (2022).) In effect, this means that you and your spouse can no longer get along, and there's no reasonable chance of saving the marriage.

The judge will automatically find that your marriage is broken if you and your spouse agree that's the case, or if one of you simply doesn't deny it. Otherwise, the judge will have to hold a hearing and look at the circumstances. The judge must be convinced that you've made every reasonable effort to attempt to reconcile before determining that your marriage is irretrievably broken and granting the divorce. (Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 42-360, 42-361 (2022).)

Will Your Divorce Be Uncontested or Contested?

If you can file for an uncontested divorce in Nebraska, the entire process will be much easier, quicker, and less expensive than a traditional contested divorce. But for a divorce to be truly uncontested, you and your spouse will have to settle all your marital issues, including:

Once those issues are resolved, you'll typically prepare and sign a marital settlement agreement, which can then become a part of your divorce decree.

If there are any issues you haven't been able to agree on by the time you file for divorce, your case will proceed as a contested divorce.

Will You Need Professional Help With Your Divorce?

If you have a settlement agreement and a relatively uncomplicated case, you should be able to handle filing for divorce yourself. A do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce will be the cheapest route to ending your marriage, but it will take some time and attention to detail to make sure you have all the right forms, have filled them out correctly, and have followed all of the steps and requirements for divorce in Nebraska.

Short of having an attorney represent you in the divorce, there are other ways of getting help with the process. For example, you could do one or a combination of the following:

  • If you want the advantages of an uncontested divorce but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about some issues, divorce mediation may help you work through the obstacles and reach an agreement.
  • You can file for divorce online by using a service that will provide you with the completed forms and basically walk you through the process. But online divorce services normally require that you have an uncontested divorce.
  • Even if you pursue the DIY or online divorce option, you might want to consult with a lawyer when you have questions or want an independent legal review of your settlement agreement.

Without an agreement, you'll follow a traditional contested divorce route. Because that will almost certainly require hiring a lawyer—who will take care of the forms, filing, and all other legal matters during the divorce—the information outlined below is mainly focused on the filing process for those who are handling their own divorce.

Preparing the Initial Divorce Papers

The Nebraska Courts website has instructions and forms needed to file for a "simple divorce" (more on what that means below). If you're the one who will start the process, you'll fill out the forms as the "plaintiff." Your spouse will be the "defendant." There are separate forms for marriages with and without minor children. You can get additional help from Nebraska Legal Aid, which provides a question-and-answer format for filling out certain forms.

When starting the divorce, you'll initially need to provide the court with a:

  • Complaint for Dissolution of Marriage (either with children or without children)
  • Vital Statistics Worksheet
  • Confidential Employment and Health Insurance Information form, and
  • Social Security Information form.

In order to use the court forms for a simple divorce, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • if you have minor children, you and your spouse must have an agreement on custody issues.
  • neither spouse is pregnant and no children are expected.
  • you and your spouse don't own real estate, or operate an ongoing business, and you have agreed on how to divide all other property and pay any outstanding debts
  • neither you nor your spouse have any pension or retirement plans, and
  • neither of you is requesting alimony.

Be aware that each court may have its own rules governing certain aspects of the divorce process. To confirm which documents you'll need, it's always a good idea to check with the district court clerk's office in the county where you file for divorce (more on that below).

Filing and Serving the Divorce Papers

After you've completed all of the necessary forms, you'll need to file them with the district court clerk's office in the county where either you or your spouse lives. (Neb. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 42-348 (2022).) Attorneys are required to use the state's e-filing system, but that's a requirement for people who are filing for divorce without an attorney (as of 2022).

Be prepared for the fact that there are court fees to file your divorce papers. Nebraska's filing fees for dissolution of marriage add up to $160 (as of 2022, but always subject to change). If you can't afford to pay court fees, you can request a waiver by filing an "Affidavit and Application to Proceed Without Payment of Fees." You'll be exempt from paying any court fees during the divorce process if the court grants your request.

Once you submit your papers to the district court clerk, you'll be assigned a case number that you'll use on all future court documents.

Nebraska law requires that you give or mail your spouse official notice of the divorce through what's known as "service of process." The easiest way to do this is simply to give your spouse a copy of the divorce complaint and other documents, and have your spouse sign a Voluntary Appearance. Then you'll file that form with the court.

Otherwise, you'll need to fill out a "Praecipe for Summons" and deliver it to the court clerk. The clerk will prepare the actual summons. If your spouse lives in the same county, the clerk will give the summons to the sheriff's office to hand-deliver to your spouse. If your spouse lives in a different Nebraska county or in another state, you'll pick up the summons from the clerk's office and send it to the sheriff in the county where your spouse lives. You can also check with the court clerk to see whether you can use a private, authorized process server rather than the sheriff's office, if you'd prefer.

Note that sheriff's offices and process servers charge a fee for service. So call in advance to find out how much that fee will be. And if you don't know where your spouse lives, or if your spouse is in the military, contact the court clerk about other available methods of serving the divorce papers.

Be aware that if you haven't served your spouse with the divorce papers within 180 days after you filed the complaint, the court will dismiss the complaint, and you'll have to start from scratch. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-217 (2) (2022).)

Next Steps in Your Nebraska Divorce

After you've filed and served the divorce papers, pay attention to the next steps needed to move your case along.

Responding to the Divorce Papers

Ordinarily, your spouse will have 30 days to file an answer to the complaint after receiving it. (Neb. Ct. Rules of Pleading, rule 6-1112 (a) (1) (2022).) If your spouse doesn't respond in the allotted time, the judge may sign a divorce judgment that grants anything you've requested in the complaint.

Financial Disclosures

During the course of your divorce, you'll likely have to provide financial information to the court. This is particularly true when there's a request for child support, alimony, or both. You'll be asked to include a great deal of data about your income and expenses, and assets and debts, and you may have to include copies of documents such as tax returns, pay stubs, and business financial statements (if applicable).

It's a good idea to gather as much of this information in advance as you can, because it's important for you to be as thorough as possible when submitting it. Complete honesty is a must, because a spouse who fails to disclose all the requested information could face penalties, such as fines and possibly jail time.

Parenting Education Course

If you have minor children, you and your spouse will have to take a basic-level parenting education course before you can get divorced in Nebraska. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-2928 (2022).) You can take the class in person or online. The purpose of the course is to inform parents of the ways in which divorce can impact children, and to provide them with tips on how to handle this delicate issue.

Mediation of Contested Custody Issues

If you have minor children and haven't already agreed on a parenting plan by the time you file for divorce, you and your spouse will be required to participate in child custody mediation in an effort to work out your differences. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-2926 (2022).)

Finalizing Your Nebraska Divorce

Nebraska has some rather quirky rules about divorce decrees. The state has two separate waiting periods before your divorce will be final.

Waiting Period Before Judge Signs Divorce Decree

Nebraska requires a 60-day waiting period (starting when you served your spouse with the divorce papers) before a judge will hold a hearing or sign your dissolution decree. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-363 (2022).)

Once the 60-day period has expired, the judge may sign your decree without a hearing if:

  • you and your spouse agree to waive the hearing requirement
  • both of you have certified in writing that your marriage is irretrievably broken and that you've made "every reasonable effort" at reconciliation,
  • you both have signed a written settlement agreement that resolves all the issues in your divorce
  • you've filed all the necessary documents, and
  • the judge has enough information to decide that the court has "jurisdiction" (legal authority) to issue orders in the case.

(Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-361(3) (2022).)

If you don't need a hearing, a judge should review your paperwork and sign your decree fairly soon after the 60-day waiting period expires, depending on the availability of judges in the district court. It will probably take longer to get a hearing scheduled if that will be required in your case. The actual amount of time will depend on the court's caseload.

You're looking at a longer time frame if your case is contested. Most couples settle their cases at some point during the divorce process—usually with the help of their lawyers—but it can take a fair amount of time to get there. And if you aren't able to reach a settlement, you'll need a divorce trial. This is by far the longest and costliest route to obtaining your divorce. It can take up to a year or more.

Waiting Period Before Divorce Decree Is Final

Even after your divorce decree is signed and entered in the court, Nebraska has another six-month waiting period before you're allowed to to get remarried. The same waiting period applies for purposes of continuation of health insurance coverage. For all other purposes, the decree will be final and operative 30 days after it's entered in the court (or when either spouse dies, if that happens sooner). (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-372.01 (2022).)