Eligibility for "Summary" Divorce / Dissolution

A summary dissolution, or summary divorce, lets couples agree to take their property and go their separate ways with minimal court time. It may also be known as an uncontested divorce or mutual consent divorce.

Divorce is never an enjoyable process. Even with no-fault divorce making the procedure more manageable, the divorce process means hours in court, expensive attorneys, and complicated court forms. For couples with few assets and no children, avoiding the process and getting divorced would be much easier.

In most states, couples who meet the requirements for an uncontested divorce may be able to file a petition for summary dissolution. 

Summary dissolution has advantages and disadvantages. This article reviews both sides of a deceptively simple issue.

Summary Divorce vs. Traditional Divorce

A summary dissolution of marriage ends the same way as a "traditional" dissolution of marriage. When the divorce process is complete, the parties' marriage ends, and they are no longer married. A summary divorce case is simpler and faster, and the parties can often do the paperwork themselves.

In a regular divorce, the parties exchange financial statements and question-and-answer forms called "interrogatories." They must have discussions about child support and alimony. There may be separate hearings about child custody and visitation. A judge must preside over the division of separate and community property.

In summary proceedings, none of this applies. Since the parties have few or no assets, they can agree to an equitable division of property themselves and write a simple settlement agreement. This means:

  • Less paperwork, fewer filings, and fewer filing fees
  • Fewer court appearances; both parties only need to appear for the final judgment of dissolution
  • Less time in court, in the attorney's office, and in negotiating minute details

Summary Divorce: The Basics

Eligibility for summary divorce varies from state to state. Couples who believe they qualify should consult a family law attorney before completing the paperwork. Some states limit the marriage's duration or the marital property's total value. Most states will not allow summary dissolution if the parties have children. Some general requirements include:

  • Marriage of short duration (5 years or less)
  • No minor children (natural or adopted)
  • No real estate interests or other property
  • Total value of marital property is below a certain amount and/or total value of separate property is below a certain amount
  • Total marital debts do not exceed a certain amount and/or total separate debts do not exceed a certain amount
  • Spouses agree to waive spousal support
  • Both spouses meet residency requirements

Other issues are state-specific. In most states, a judge in family court must oversee all child custody and child support matters. Married couples cannot sign a waiver for any child support issue.

If there have been allegations of domestic violence or abuse, a summary dissolution may not be an ideal way to end the marriage. Although it is fast and does not require both parties to be present, either party can change their mind and terminate the process.

In states that recognize domestic partnerships, such as California, couples must dissolve domestic partnerships like marriages. There are separate forms for summary dissolution of domestic partnerships in those states.

Summary Dissolution Process

Summary divorce forms, or "petitions," differ by state. A sample petition here shows what a standard form looks like. Some states want the spouses to sign a notarized affidavit affirming agreement to the petition (this page contains state-specific samples). No matter what forms you use, you should always get legal advice before submitting your petition.

When you file the petition, you must pay a filing fee. Fee waivers are available at the clerk's office if you cannot pay. If both parties have signed the joint petition, the petition does not need to be "served" on the other party. The court clerk gives the papers to the judge.

Once the judge signs the divorce decree, the divorce is final. There is no hearing or trial.

Waiting Periods

Most states impose a waiting period on divorcing couples. This period ensures that couples want to divorce before issuing the divorce decree. If you and your spouse have genuine irreconcilable differences and cannot repair your marriage, the delay should not affect your separation. During the waiting period, which may be up to six months, the couple is still married and cannot remarry.

Learn More About Eligibility for Summary Divorce: Talk to a Lawyer

Divorce proceedings, even simplified ones, are emotional and legal mazes. A consultation with an experienced divorce attorney eases the process and helps address potential problems before they arise. An experienced divorce lawyer will be able to answer your questions regarding summary dissolution eligibility and more.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You may not need an attorney for a simple divorce with uncontested issues
  • Legal advice is critical to protect your interests in a contested divorce
  • Divorce lawyers can help secure fair custody/visitation, support, and property division

An attorney is a skilled advocate during negotiations and court proceedings. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Divorce is an ideal time to review your beneficiary designations on life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. You need to change your estate planning forms to reflect any new choices about your personal representative and beneficiaries. You can change your power of attorney if you named your ex-spouse as your agent. Also, change your health care directive to remove them from making your health care decisions.

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