What if you could get divorced without all the expense and drama? What 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 divorce 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, you will need to file a petition for a "contested" divorce, which may take more time and money to complete than an uncontested divorce.
Nebraska does not have special rules or procedures for uncontested cases. However, uncontested cases, where both spouses agree on all divorce-related issues, move through the system much more quickly than traditional divorces. If you and your spouse agree on all the terms of the divorce before you file, you may be finished with the divorce process 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 court to finalize your divorce, 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 you must satisfy before you can get divorced in Nebraska. First, you or your spouse must have resided in Nebraska for at least one full year before filing the divorce papers. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-349.)
Second, you have to give the court a "ground," or legal reason, for the divorce. In Nebraska, the only ground the court recognizes for divorce is the "irretrievable breakdown" of the marriage. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-361.) As long as you can tell a court that your marriage is so badly broken that you can't save it, then that's reason enough for the judge to grant a divorce. (Neb. Rev. Stat. §42-353 (8).)
The first step in filing for divorce is knowing where to bring your paperwork. The district court in Nebraska handles divorce cases, and you can find your court by visiting the Nebraska Judicial Branch website. The website identifies each judicial district and the names and addresses of the judges who preside in those courthouses. Filing in the incorrect court may result in the judge dismissing your case and requiring you to start the process over. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-348.)
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 website divides the packets 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, the court could delay your divorce.
Although many court clerks are familiar with court procedures, none can provide you legal advice. You can discuss where to find the paperwork you need, but beyond that, you'll need to research the answers or consult with a family law attorney.
Complete your divorce complaint
You will need to complete several documents, but the most important for the plaintiff is the divorce complaint. The complaint provides information about the spouses and their marriage, and it includes a request from the plaintiff for the court to order specific relief, like granting the divorce or ordering the defendant (the other spouse) to pay alimony. (Neb. Rev. Stat. §42-353.) 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 proper 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 the 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 service—anymore.
Serve your spouse
The next step is for the plaintiff to serve the defendant. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-355.) "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 the county sheriff personally hand over the summons and complaint. The sheriff will then give the plaintiff written proof of the service, which you will need to file with the court. (Neb. Rev. Stat. §25-517.02.)
After you complete service, you have to wait 60 days before you can have a final hearing. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-363.) Many things can and should happen during the waiting period.
First, if you and your spouse haven't reached a total agreement, your spouse has 30 days after receiving the paperwork to file an answer to your complaint—the answer should identify what is 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 or prior to trial.
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, which is a very common way of proceeding with an uncontested divorce. However, the defendant spouse must be aware that the judge has the authority to grant whatever the plaintiff is requesting when the defendant fails to appear, so it's important to be on the same page with your spouse and make sure you are satisfied with the outcome the plaintiff spouse is requesting.
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 you've met all the state's divorce rules.