Ugly, drawn-out divorce cases tend to make news, but many couples manage to go through the process without battling each other in court and emptying their bank accounts. If you and your spouse can compromise and work out agreements when ending your marriage, then you may be good candidates for an "uncontested divorce."
This article explains the process of uncontested divorce in Kentucky.
An uncontested divorce is one in which a couple has agreed about all the key aspects of their divorce, including:
Many couples are able to go through an uncontested "DIY" divorce without hiring lawyers. However, even if you're able to reach a marital settlement agreement (known as a "separation agreement" in Kentucky) on your own—or with the help of mediation—it might be a good idea to have a lawyer review the agreement to make sure that it's fair and won't lead to surprises after your divorce. You might also need a lawyer's help if your finances are complicated—for example, if you have retirement plans that need to be divided in the divorce, or if you own a house or business with your spouse.
Couples who are unable to reach a complete agreement will have to proceed to trial and let a judge decide any contested issues—which adds considerably to the time and cost of divorce. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 403.180 (2021).)
Before you can file for divorce in Kentucky, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least 180 days. Also, you must have "lived apart" for 60 days before the judge will sign the final divorce decree. However, the law makes it clear that you can meet the living-apart requirement even if you both are residing in the same residence, as long as it's "without sexual cohabitation." (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 403.140, 403.170 (2021).)
These time frames represent minimum waiting periods before filing for divorce and before finalizing the process. Your case could take longer than that—and much longer if you have to go to trial.
Unlike some states, Kentucky doesn't have a separate, simplified procedure for uncontested divorce. Still, couples who are able to reach a settlement agreement before they file for divorce, or soon afterwards, can complete the divorce process relatively quickly and easily
In Kentucky, one spouse (the "petitioner") initiates the divorce proceeding by completing and filing a petition for dissolution of marriage. On the petition, you need to state the "ground," or legal reason for divorce. Kentucky is a purely "no fault" state, which means that the only legal ground for divorce is that "the marriage is irretrievably broken," meaning that there's no reasonable prospect that the spouses could reconcile. The petition also includes information about the marriage and separation date, the spouses, and their children, if any. (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 403.150, 403.170 (2021).)
If you've already settled all of the issues in your divorce, attach the written and signed separation agreement with the petition. You'll also need to submit a summons and other appropriate forms, such as financial disclosures, a visitation schedule, and a child-support worksheet.
To learn which forms you need, you can contact the clerk at the court where you will file for divorce (the circuit court in the county where you or your spouse lives). You can search for circuit court clerks by county on the Kentucky Judicial Branch website. (Note that some circuit courts have family court divisions that handle divorce cases.)
You could also simplify the process of obtaining the right forms and filling them out by using an online divorce service, which will provide the proper completed forms for your state and situation after you answer a series of questions about your situation. Many of these services guarantee that your state will accept the completed forms.
Once the forms are complete, take the original petition, summons, and other forms, along with two copies of everything, to the office of the court clerk. You're responsible to pay a filing fee at the time you submit your paperwork. The fee varies by county. If you can't afford the filing fee, be sure to ask your local court clerk for a fee waiver form.
You then need to serve official copies of the divorce paperwork on your spouse (the "respondent"). Usually, this means that you pay for a sheriff's deputy or professional process server to hand deliver a copy of the papers to the respondent. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 403.150 (2021).)
After you've filed all the legal forms for your uncontested divorce, including your separation agreement, there must be a final hearing on your divorce (but not before you've been separated for 60 days). At the hearing, the judge will review your settlement agreement to ensure that it's basically fair and serves the best interests of any minor children. Unless the settlement is "unconscionable," the judge will approve and incorporate the agreement into your divorce decree. At that point, your divorce will be final.