Ugly divorce cases tend to make news, but most divorces are quick, no-fault cases that don’t cost couples their life savings. If you and your spouse can hammer out agreements in your divorce, then you may be good candidates for an "uncontested divorce."
This article explains how to obtain an uncontested divorce in Kentucky. If you have any questions after reading this article, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.
An uncontested divorce is one where the couple is in total agreement about all the key aspects of their divorce. To get an uncontested divorce you and your spouse must have reached an agreement on child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, the children’s health and dental insurance coverage, property division, and any other relevant issue in your case. Couples who are unable to reach a complete agreement will have to proceed to trial and let a judge decide any contested issues.
Before you can file for divorce in Kentucky, either spouse must have lived in the state for at least 180 days. Even couples who are in complete agreement on all issues in their divorce must be separated for at least 60 days before the divorce decree can be entered.
These time frames represent minimum waiting periods. Your divorce could take much longer if your case goes to a full-blown trial. However, couples who reach divorce agreements on their own, or with a mediator’s help, usually have a faster and less costly divorce process than those to head to trial. See Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 403.140 (2020).
If you’ve decided to pursue your divorce on your own and without the help of an attorney, you’re responsible for knowing where to file your papers. You should file your divorce in the county where you or your spouse lives.
A judge might throw out your case if you file your divorce paperwork in the wrong place. Filing mistakes could cost you time and money. The Kentucky Judicial Branch website has a court locations page you can use to find your local court.
You will file for divorce in one of Kentucky's circuit courts, which are the entry-level trial courts for family matters. Each circuit court covers one or more counties. Within the circuit courts are a division called family courts.
Family courts specialize in divorce, custody, and other cases that involve children. They are still part of the circuit courts, but they devote 100% of their time to family cases. If you live in a circuit with a family court division, that's where your case will begin.
Although there is no official uncontested divorce timeline in Kentucky, the process is relatively straightforward and quick for couples who’ve reached a settlement agreement. In other words, the more you and your spouse can agree on, the less a judge will have to decide.
A "petitioner" (the spouse who begins the divorce) must locate and complete the correct divorce forms to start the case. Within your divorce petition, you’ll need to cite your “grounds” or legal reason for divorce. Kentucky is a purely "no fault" state, which means that the only reason a divorce can be granted is if there's been an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage." This means that the marriage is so badly broken that it can't be repaired. No fault divorce prevents spouses from having to waste time arguing about intimate details of their marriage in front of strangers.
At a minimum, a petitioner must complete a petition, summons, settlement agreement, and final divorce documents in an uncontested divorce case. More paperwork will be required if a judge has to decide issues like alimony and child custody in your case.
Couples without children can access free Kentucky online divorce forms. Couples with children will need to contact the clerk at your circuit courthouse and find out what papers to use.
Once the forms are complete, you’ll take the original petition and summons and two copies 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. If your fee waiver request gets approved, you won’t have to pay filing fees but you may still be responsible for service fees.
In any divorce, the petitioner must serve official copies of the divorce paperwork on the "respondent" (the other spouse). "Serving papers" means that a sheriff's deputy or professional process server hand delivers a copy of the papers to the respondent. If you and your spouse are already in agreement about the divorce, see if he or she would sign an acceptance of service allowing you to waive the office service requirement.
When all the paperwork is filed, including any written agreements you and your spouse reach, one or both of you will have to go to court for a final hearing to provide brief testimony. The judge will ask about the agreement and will approve it and sign the final order if the agreement is fair and serves the best interests of any minor children.
Your divorce can be a quick, relatively inexpensive process if your case is uncontested. However, if you and your spouse fight about every last detail and your case ends up at trial, it could be very costly. Filling out divorce forms on your own can save you money.
However, keep in mind that court clerks can’t offer you legal advice. If you don’t understand the legal ramifications of a settlement agreement or the financial impact of divorce, you should consider hiring a family law attorney. Saving a little money now could cost you more in the end if you don’t understand the divorce process. You may qualify for additional legal help through Legal Aid Network of Kentucky (divorce).