Divorce can be stressful even under the best of circumstances. But it doesn't have to involve a drawn-out, expensive court battle. If you and your spouse can agree on how you'll deal with the legal, financial, and practical details involved in ending your marriage, you can save money and time by getting an uncontested divorce in New York.
There are three basic requirements to file for an uncontested divorce in New York: agreement on the no-fault reason for your divorce, a residency requirement, and agreement on the issues in your case.
As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in New York. The state allows divorce based on both "fault" and "no-fault" grounds. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 170 (2022).)
When you file for a fault-based divorce, you'll need to claim—and eventually prove—that your spouse was to blame for the end of your marriage by engaging in a certain type of misconduct (like adultery or cruelty). That's why you should use a no-fault ground when you're filing for an uncontested divorce.
As long as you have a complete separation agreement (more on that below), the quickest way to get an uncontested divorce in New York is to state on your paperwork (under oath) that your marriage has been broken "irretrievably" for six months. Basically, that means you and your spouse haven't been able to get along for at least that long, and there's no reasonable prospect of the situation changing. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 170(7) (2022).)
In order to file for divorce in New York, you must meet one of the following residency requirements:
New York courts have found that for the purpose of these residency requirements, the "cause" of your divorce refers to specific actions (such as in a fault-based divorce based on adultery), not the breakdown of your marriage. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 230 (2022); Patty P. v. Jason P., 106 N.Y.S.3d 765 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2019).)
For your divorce to be truly uncontested, you and your spouse will need to work out agreements on all the issues in your case, including:
If you're having trouble agreeing about any of these issues—or any other matters you want to address in your divorce—mediation might help you find solutions that work for both you and your spouse. Most mediators will prepare a document that reflects any agreements you've reached during the process. This document can then be the basis for your written "separation agreement" (sometimes referred to as a "marital settlement agreement," "property settlement agreement," or "divorce settlement agreement").
As with most legal proceedings, you'll need to submit some forms to start your uncontested New York divorce case. Even with an uncontested divorce, you'll fill out the forms as the "plaintiff," while your spouse will be the "defendant."
The New York State court system provides some divorce forms and instructions online. There are separate packets of forms and instructions depending on whether you and your spouse have children:
The main forms to start the uncontested divorce process are:
You'll need to prepare other forms if you have children under 21, including a child support worksheet and an income worksheet.
To simplify the process of tracking down and preparing your divorce documents, you could file for divorce online by using a service that will provide you with the proper uncontested divorce forms, completed based on your answers to a questionnaire. These services will typically also help you create the document for your settlement agreement, and some will take care of filing the divorce papers, for an additional fee.
Once you've completed and signed the applicable forms, you'll have to file them with the court. Generally, you'll do this by bringing copies in person to the Supreme Court Clerk's office of the county where you're starting the divorce. You can usually file divorce papers in the New York county where either you or your spouse lives, or where a "substantial part of the events" that led to your divorce happened. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 503(a) (2022).)
If you'd prefer not to hand-deliver your documents to the court, check with the clerk's office about the possibility of using the state's electronic filing system.
When you file your divorce papers, the clerk will give you an index number. You'll need to include that number on all the other documents you file in connection with your divorce case. There's a fee for the index number, as well as other filing fees (more on that below).
Once you file the divorce complaint with the court, it has to be "served on" (delivered to) your spouse. You must serve your spouse with a copy of the initial divorce forms within 120 days of filing them. If you don't, the court may dismiss the divorce complaint. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 306-b (2022).)
Someone other than you has to serve the papers personally. If your spouse lives in New York state, anyone who resides in New York, isn't directly involved in the divorce, and is over 18 years old can deliver the forms. But most people opt to use the sheriff's office or a professional process server. If your spouse lives outside New York state, check with the clerk's office about the different rules that apply for serving your spouse.
After you've filed for an uncontested divorce, your spouse should file an "Affidavit of Defendant in Action for Divorce." Among other things, this document lets the court know that your spouse:
You may also have to file other forms (if they weren't already included with your initial paperwork) to move your case along, including a "Request for Judicial Intervention" in order to get a judge assigned to your case. Learn more about filing for divorce in New York, including further details on the documents required to finalize your case.
With an uncontested divorce, you typically don't have to attend a hearing in New York to get your final divorce judgment. The judge will simply review all of your paperwork and, if everything is in order, will sign the judgment.
Unlike some states, New York doesn't have a mandatory minimum waiting period before you can get your final divorce, after you've file the initial paperwork. And when your spouse has filed the defendant's affidavit (as discussed above), that waives the waiting period for allowing time to respond to the divorce complaint (20-30 days, depending on the circumstances), as well as the additional waiting period for a default divorce when a spouse doesn't respond in that time.
However, even though the defendant's affidavit consent to having the case placed on the court's uncontested divorce calendar "immediately," that doesn't mean you'll get your final divorce immediately. Typically, uncontested divorces take about six to 12 weeks in New York. The length of time it will take in your case depends mostly on two factors:
As a rule, an uncontested divorce is lot cheaper than a traditional, contested divorce. That's largely because many couples can get through the uncontested divorce process without hiring lawyers to represent them—which leads to big savings on the normal cost of divorce.
The basic expense for an uncontested divorce will be the various court fees. According to the New York court website, filing fees for an uncontested divorce—including the fee for getting an index number and requesting a judge—will be at least $335 (as of July 2022, and always subject to change). If you can't afford the fees, you can request a waiver by filing an "Affidavit in Support of Application to Proceed as a Poor Person."
Beyond the filing fees, your costs will depend on whether you get a "pure" do-it-yourself divorce or you need some help with the process.