What if you could get divorced without all the expense and drama—or if you could get divorced and move on with your life without wasting so much time in legal offices and courtrooms? There is a way. If you and your spouse can cooperate and negotiate together, you can get an uncontested divorce that will be cheaper and quicker than arguing in front of a judge.
This article will explain uncontested divorces in Nebraska. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
An uncontested divorce simply means that both spouses agree on all the key terms of the divorce, including:
If you or your spouse disagree about any of these items, your divorce will be considered "contested" and it will have to go to trial.
Nebraska does not have special rules or procedures for uncontested cases. However, uncontested cases move through the system much more quickly. If you and your spouse agree on all the terms of the divorce before you file, you may be done with your divorce in as little as six months. If you can't agree right away but you come to a total agreement later in the process, it will take proportionately longer for the divorce to be finalized, but the overall length of time will still be less than if you'd gone through a full-blown trial.
There are a couple of preliminary rules that have to be satisfied before you can get divorced in Nebraska. First, you or your spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least one full year before filing the divorce papers.
Second, you have to give the court a "ground," or legal reason, for the divorce. Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is the only ground recognized in Nebraska. As long as you can tell a court that your marriage is so badly broken that it can't be saved, then that's reason enough for the judge to grant a divorce.
You’re responsible for knowing where to file your papers. If you file in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out or transferred and you might have to start over. The Nebraska Judicial Branch has a website you can use to identify each judicial district and the names and addresses of the judges who preside in those courthouses.
There are two kinds of entry-level trial courts in Nebraska: county courts and district courts. District courts and county courts can hear many of the same cases, but by law, divorce cases should be filed in district court in the county where either one of the spouses lives. Later on, if you think the judge's final order is wrong, you can appeal to the Nebraska Court of Appeals or even the Nebraska Supreme Court. But remember: when you're starting your case, it's crucial to file your papers in the correct district court.
The first thing that the "plaintiff" (the spouse who begins the divorce) needs to do is locate the correct forms and complete them. The Nebraska Judicial Branch offers divorce packets for simple divorce cases where there are no disputes about property, custody, or visitation. (See Nebraska Judicial Branch Self-Help Center). The packets are divided into sets designed for people with children and sets for people without children. (See Official divorce forms: no children and no disputed property and Official divorce forms: with children, but with no custody, visitation, or property disputes.)
Each packet contains highly detailed instructions that you must follow exactly. Take your time and work carefully. Type everything on a computer or write or print neatly. If you rush through the papers and make mistakes, your divorce could be delayed.
Feel free to talk to the court clerks who work in the courthouse, but keep in mind that they can’t give you any legal advice. If you have questions, you’ll either need to research the answers or consult with a family law attorney.
Although many documents need to be completed, the most important for the plaintiff is the complaint. The complaint provides a lot of information about the spouses and their marriage, and it includes a plea from the plaintiff for the court to order certain relief, like granting the divorce or ordering the defendant (the other spouse) to pay alimony. If you and your spouse are already in agreement, you can write the complaint to reflect your agreement.
The plaintiff then has to sign the complaint in front of a notary public and file the papers at the courthouse. The clerk will create a case file and save a copy of the documents, assign a number to the case, and charge a filing fee. If you can't afford a fee, ask the clerk for an indigency waiver. You will provide financial information on the waiver form and a judge will sign it if you meet the financial criteria, meaning you won't have to pay fees—either for filing or for service—anymore.
The next step is for the plaintiff to serve the defendant. "Service" is the official means by which you make sure that the other spouse gets a copy of your documents. If you and your spouse have already been talking and reached an agreement, it may seem silly to have to serve the documents, but you must do it. If you think your spouse will cooperate, ask your spouse to sign a Voluntary Appearance form. If not, have them served by having a county sheriff personally hand over the summons and complaint. The sheriff will then give the plaintiff written proof of the service, which has to be filed.
After all this has been done, you have to wait 60 days before you can have a final hearing. A lot of things can and should happen in that time.
First, if you and your spouse haven't reached a total agreement yet, your spouse might file an answer to your complaint, which will explain what parts of the complaint are in dispute. If that happens, there's a chance you may have to go to trial if you can't settle your issues in court-ordered mediation.
Second, based on what the issues are, you may also have to go to a "temporary hearing," where a judge will issue an order that binds everyone until the final order.
Finally, if you have children, you must complete the required parenting education during this 60-day waiting period.
However, the defendant does not have to file an answer. Instead, the defendant can just wait it out without submitting anything. After a short period, a defendant will be deemed "in default" and the plaintiff can schedule a final hearing. This is a very common way of proceeding with an uncontested divorce.
At the final hearing, the plaintiff will give testimony by responding to some very brief questioning from the judge. The defendant can appear, but doesn't have to be there. The judge will sign the final divorce order if it is fair and reasonable and all the rules have been followed.