If you're a New York resident who's decided to file for divorce, the New York Courts website provides an overview of the divorce process, as well as the forms you'll need to move forward.
When filing for divorce, there are a number of paths you can take:
If you decide to pursue the divorce by yourself, here's some advice about what you need to do to begin the process.
If you want to file for divorce in New York, you first must meet two basic qualifications: a legally acceptable reason ("ground") for ending your marriage, and a residency requirement.
New York allows both "fault" and "no-fault" grounds for divorce. When you file for a fault-based divorce, you'll claim (and have to prove) that your spouse engaged in certain wrongful conduct:
In contrast, no-fault grounds don't point a finger of blame at either spouse. New York has basically two no-fault grounds:
(N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 170 (2023).)
You can get a divorce in New York if you meet one of the state's residency requirements. Typically, you'll qualify if:
New York also has separate residency requirements that apply when the ground for your divorce happened in the state. (N.Y Dom. Rel. Law § 230 (2023).)
You can find and download the instructions and forms you'll need to file for an uncontested divorce in the Uncontested Divorce Packet on the court's website. (If you have no children under the age of 21, you can use New York's streamlined Uncontested Divorce Program.)
When you're filing for divorce, be prepared to pay the various New York court filing fees (which total $335 as of January 2023 but are always subject to change). In situations involving financial hardship, you can apply for a fee waiver.
In order to start the divorce, you'll have to complete and file the following forms:
Again, these forms are available on the court's website.
Both the Summons With Notice and the Summons and Verified Complaint require you to provide the grounds for divorce, as well as other items you want addressed (known as "relief"). This includes topics such as child custody, child support, division of property, and spousal maintenance ("alimony").
Bring the completed forms (along with two copies) to the Supreme Court clerk's office in the county where you're starting the divorce (typically, the county where either you or your spouse resides). The clerk will assign an index number for your case, which you must include on all your divorce forms.
You must serve your spouse with a copy of the initial divorce papers within 120 days after you've filed them with the court. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 306-B (2023).)
Generally, you'll need to arrange to have another person (who's at least 18 years old and isn't directly involved in the divorce) hand deliver the documents to your spouse or your spouse's lawyer. However, you may mail the papers by first-class mail (along with a pre-stamped return envelope) as long as your spouse is willing to sign an acknowledgement of service. ( (N.Y. C.P.L.R. §§ 312-a, 2103(a) (2023).)
There are different rules for service if your spouse lives outside New York state. Also, if you've tried but haven't been able to find your spouse, you may ask the court to approve an alternate method of service (such as publishing a notice in a newspaper).
Your spouse will have 20 days to respond after being personally served with the divorce complaint (or 30 days after out-of-state service). (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 320 (2023).)
The type of response will depend on whether the case is contested or uncontested.
If your spouse doesn't respond in time, you may request a default divorce judgment. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 211 (2023).)
After you've filed and served the initial forms referenced above, your work is far from over. New York requires a veritable boatload of additional forms you'll need to file before you can complete your divorce. The requirements may vary, depending on your county.
Here are some of the additional forms you may have to submit:
Some of the forms you may have to submit for your divorce will require information regarding your finances, such as income and expenses. You'll want to be as thorough as possible, so it's a good idea to gather this documentation in advance, rather than trying to hunt for it while you're filling out the forms.
There's also something else to consider. This article has focused mostly on getting an uncontested divorce in New York. As you can see, the process is complicated even when there's nothing to fight about. But the complexity increases dramatically when there's a disagreement on one or more issues, and contested cases can take anywhere from several months to well over a year to reach conclusion.
The point is that while filing for divorce on your own is possible in New York, it might not always be the best idea. Even with an uncontested divorce, hiring a lawyer (or at least using an online divorce service) may be worth it just for the peace of mind that comes from knowing you've completed all the forms properly. And if your situation or finances are complicated, you should at least consult with an attorney before you sign a settlement agreement.
If you and your spouse can't agree on the issues—particularly if you have minor children, own significant assets, or your spouse has already hired a lawyer—getting legal representation is almost crucial. Navigating the divorce process in a contested case would require familiarizing yourself with New York's multitude of divorce laws, including the Rules of Evidence. That's a heavy lift for a non-lawyer. A qualified divorce attorney will know the intricacies of the law, as well as the ins-and-outs of the court system.
Remember, you're likely going to have to live with the results of your case well after the divorce is over. If, down the road, you realize you made a mistake, there's no guarantee you'll be able to correct it. So it pays to get it right the first time.