What We Cover In This Article
Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives
Divorce is never simple.
With it comes massive emotional, financial, social, and legal burdens.
If you are getting a divorce in New York, you must make sure all of your bases are covered.
You must consider divorce laws, both federal and specific to New York State, lawyers and the accompanying fees, asset and debt allocation, alimony, and several other topics.
To make this process simpler and less stressful, we have put together a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know while going through a divorce in New York.
While we are providing information for the state of New York, individual counties may have more specific laws.
Verify with your county clerk to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information possible.
Types of Divorce Laws in New York
Unfortunately, divorce is not always a straightforward process.
New York has very specific guidelines and laws to consider when filing for divorce and going through the legal process.
Sometimes, if you want the divorce to go smoothly, it will depend on your willingness or ability to work together with the spouse you want to divorce.
A quick tip for people who have not had “the talk” yet with your spouse where you let them know they want a divorce, the level of cooperation during your divorce all starts with how you approach this important conversation.
In New York, there are 2 types of divorce.
- Uncontested divorce
- Contested divorce
In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse have agreed to all the terms of your divorce and everything is settled beforehand.
You are not seeking the courts assistance in creating and deciding on the terms of your marriage’s dissolution.
For a divorce to be uncontested, the splitting couple must meet two conditions:
- They must have all terms settled, including division of property, allocation of debt/assets, child support, custody and visitation, spousal support, or anything else that may arise, and
- Both parties agree to the terms, or one party fails to respond or attend the hearing.
While this is by far the most straightforward and most ideal outcome in any divorce in New York.
However, you must still go through the proper channels in the courts for obtaining a divorce.
Even if your soon-to-be-ex-spouse agrees on all terms and you are ready to obtain an uncontested divorce, there are a few considerations to make.
You must decide if you will use an attorney or file pro se (without legal representation) to just help you through the process.
If you are attempting an uncontested divorce with no lawyer, the State of New York has some self-filing options.
The New York Court System provides an uncontested divorce packet that you may fill out and file yourself.
The court system will use this packet if you have settled all matters, but you have circumstances such as child custody and support that they must include in the proceedings.
They also have made a DIY Uncontested Divorce Program available that you simply fill out online and file.
This program is specifically designed for uncontested divorces under the following conditions:
- Both parties are adults of at least 18 years of age
- There are no children present in the marriage
- All marital issues have been resolved and agreed upon
- The divorce will be “no-fault,” or using the grounds of the relationship being irreparable for at least six months.
Depending on your specific circumstances, either of these options may be right for you.
The other option to assist you in filing for an uncontested divorce is using an online divorce service.
We will discuss this valuable option in more detail later in this article.
However, you still have the option of hiring an attorney and allowing them to draw up your legal documents and file on your behalf.
While this is the more expensive route, having representation is protection if something unexpected comes up or if you are unsure about completing the process on your own.
Hiring a lawyer will also ensure that your agreement is written correctly.
New York requires legal documents to be specific and accurate to be considered valid in the court.
Typically, with an uncontested divorce, the end of your marriage requires just a short hearing.
The judge will review and approve your agreement, both parties will testify that they agree and are not under duress, and the order will be signed and filed.
Just like that, you will be able to go your separate ways.
FURTHER READING: How To Get a Cheap and Quick Divorce
Pros & Cons
If you qualify for an uncontested divorce, using an online divorce service is a great way to save a lot of money. Keep in mind in New York, divorce can cost over $13,500 in fees if you file for divorce with an attorney.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Contested simply means “opposed.”
A contested divorce is one in which the two parties do not agree on all aspects and require a judge to decide the terms of the divorce.
While this is much more difficult than an uncontested divorce, a contested divorce is not necessarily hostile or complicated all the time.
It can just indicate that you need some help working out the final details of your agreement.
There are several reasons why you might end up in a contested divorce proceeding:
- Either you or your spouse does not wish to be divorced
- You have a disagreement about the grounds for the divorce
- You cannot come to an agreement on the terms of your divorce.
This disagreement could be that you have different opinions on how to divide your finances, who gets custody of the children, who is responsible for various debts, or other problems, like spousal support.
Contested divorces can involve a much longeer process.
The court will not resolve it in one quick and easy hearing.
There are several hearings during this type of divorce in New York.
The series of hearings involve temporary and interim hearings to decide on temporary measures such as child support and custody, and spousal support while the matter is still being determined.
There are many costs and factors that may arise as the divorce progresses.
The court will set dates for discovery and presentation of evidence and facts, as well as other deadlines the couple will have to meet.
Sometimes, a contested divorce requires the involvement of third parties.
In matters of child custody, there may be a Guardian Ad Litem, medical professionals, or even Child Protective Services who must give their input.
The parents may have to have psychiatric evaluations, take drug tests, provide their financial information or medical history.
All of these complications can lead to a drawn-out process.
While the goal of the New York State Court System is to resolve contested divorces in one year or less, more complicated battles may end up taking more time.
For this reason, it is strongly recommended that you do not attempt a contested divorce without representation.
However, family law attorneys are not cheap, and during a messy court battle, you will be racking up many man-hours.
These types of scenarios are definitely considered “worst case.”
Your contested divorce could be as simple as disagreeing on the presence or amount of alimony or child support, or the division of property, or who gets to remain in the marital home.
In these cases, the judge will review the contributing factors and make a ruling based on the facts presented to them.
Most contested divorces get a settlement along the way, and a final trial is not necessary.
A family court judge will prefer to see divorcing couples resolve their disputes themselves without requiring outside intervention.
If you and your spouse cannot agree between yourselves, be prepared to accept whatever ruling the judge will make.
The judge will try to be as fair as possible, but when left to a third party, there will likely be elements of the outcome that feel unfair or unacceptable to either or both parties.
This outcome is why it is crucial to make your best effort to resolve outstanding issues with your ex.
Pros & Cons
Mediated or Collaborative Divorce
If your goal is an uncontested divorce, or you are confident that you and your spouse can work out any lingering disagreements, there are ways to accomplish this without the intervention of a judge.
Divorce mediation is an excellent tool for finding solutions to conflicts while dissolving a marriage.
In mediation, the separating couple will attend a session (or multiple sessions) with a neutral party.
Often, the mediator is an attorney trained in family law and mediation.
In this setting, you and your spouse will discuss the disagreements you have encountered while crafting your divorce agreement and work towards finding amicable solutions.
The mediator will assist in guiding conversations, keeping expectations realistic and manageable, and drawing an agreement.
There are several ways to find a mediator, either self-paid or free.
There are low-cost and free programs for low-income individuals, court-based mediation programs, and private practices which offer divorce mediation.
Mediation will help to resolve matters of property, finances, and child custody.
If you cannot resolve any matters, your case will proceed in court as a contested divorce.
If you and your ex can create an agreement that works for both of you, you may then complete an uncontested divorce.
Collaborative Family Law is similar to the mediation process.
In a collaborative divorce, each party is represented by its own attorney.
Instead of having a third party (mediator) guide and assist with the divorce process, the spouses will meet with their attorneys and collaborate on their divorce terms.
They will work together to find solutions to their conflicts and draft an agreement that benefits both of them.
Their attorneys are present to ensure that everything is done legally and correctly and that each party is protected throughout this process.
Just like with mediation, if you and your spouse can collaborate on an acceptable divorce agreement, you may proceed with an uncontested divorce.
However, if collaboration does not work and you do not believe you will benefit from the services of a trained mediator, it is once again going to be up to the judge.
A few extenuating circumstances will lead a divorce to look a bit different from the standard uncontested or contested proceeding.
Here are some exceptional cases.
Divorce by Default Judgment
Divorce by default judgment is a reasonably straightforward process.
This divorce happens when you have served your ex with a summons to appear in court, and they fail to show up.
In this case, the judge will assume that your spouse agrees to the grounds and terms of your divorce, and you will be granted an uncontested divorce.
Divorce by Publication
When filing for divorce, you are required to serve your spouse with the complaint and summons within twenty days of filing.
In some cases, this may not be possible.
For example, if your ex is missing or does not know where they reside, it is impossible to serve them.
An old law allows you to “serve” your ex by announcing it in a newspaper or other circulated publication.
However, to obtain a publication divorce, you must document your search efforts to prove that you exhausted every attempt to locate your spouse.
This documentation includes searching through:
- Local post offices
- Internet directories
- Social media
- The military
- Voter registration
- The Department of Motor Vehicles
Not only is it essential to prove that you searched for them, but it is also imperative to be completely honest.
If you really could have located your ex, they can challenge your divorce at a later date and land you in legal trouble.
Once you have attempted to locate your spouse, you will petition the court for permission to serve them via publication.
The court will determine how often and for how long you must run your “summons” in the newspaper.
After that requirement is met, you may proceed to court.
Since the other party is not likely to appear, you will obtain a divorce by default judgment, which is technically an uncontested divorce.
Since this process can expose you to potential legal troubles, it is highly recommended that you hire an attorney to assist you with your divorce by publication.
Residency Requirements in New York
One of the most important factors to consider before filing for divorce in the state of New York is whether or not you meet the residency requirements.
New York’s law regarding divorce and residency is clear and specific.
You can access it through the New York State Senate’s website under “legislation.”
To obtain a divorce in the state of New York, you must meet at least one of the following requirements:
- You and your spouse were married in the state, and at least one of you is a resident and has resided there for an entire year before filing.
- Either you or your spouse is a current resident of New York for at least one year, and you resided within the state together as a married couple.
- Either you or your spouse is a current resident and has been for at least a year, and the cause for divorce occurred within New York.
- The cause for divorce occurred in New York, and both of you are current residents when filing.
- Either you or your spouse has resided in the state for at least two straight years at the time of filing.
To summarize these requirements, the most essential factor is that at least one party has lived in New York for twelve months and still resides there.
However, either the marriage itself or the cause for the marriage must have occurred within the state.
Otherwise, the residency requirement is two years.
If your spouse now lives out of state, one of these options may still work for you.
You are still eligible to file for divorce in New York as long as you meet the other requirements. This may or may not require proof.
If you cannot find or contact the other party, you may want to seek a divorce by publication or hire a private investigator.
It is strongly recommended that you enlist the services of an attorney in these cases to be sure that you are doing everything by the book.
Grounds for Divorce in New York
The State of New York has both no-fault and at-fault divorces.
The availability of no-fault divorce means that most divorce cases do not have to show grounds for divorce.
This law makes the process simpler for all involved.
However, in some circumstances such as a being trapped in a toxic marriage, one may file for an at-fault divorce.
According to the New York State Unified Court System, the following are the grounds for divorce:
- Irretrievable breakdown in relationship for at least six months: This is referred to as a no-fault divorce. It simply means that the parties agree that the marriage is not salvageable, which has been the case for at least half a year. New York requires that couples who wish to use the no-fault ground have all matters settled before court.
- Cruel and inhuman treatment: This ground must be proven through acts of cruelty that occurred within five years of filing. The plaintiff must be in physical or mental danger.
- Abandonment: Two types of spousal abandonment create a cause for divorce. The first type is your spouse has physically left the marital home for at least one year and does not wish to return. The other type is “constructive” abandonment, which means that one spouse refuses sexual relations for at least a year.
- Imprisonment: In these divorce cases, one spouse has been in prison for at least three years. There are some specifics to this cause. You cannot have gotten married while your spouse was imprisoned. You may file for divorce using this ground either while your spouse is still incarcerated for up to five years from their date of release.
- Adultery: While infidelity may be a common cause for divorce, to officially use this as grounds in family court, evidence is required from outside of the couple. This requirement can make adultery or cheating harder to prove.
- Divorce after a legal separation agreement: In such cases, the couple will have filed an official separation agreement with the court before living apart for at least one year. There are additional requirements in these legal separation agreements.
- Divorce after a judgment of separation: According to the State of New York, this ground is rarely used in divorce proceedings. It requires living apart for one year and obtaining a judgment of separation from a judge.
Using a New York Divorce Attorney
One of the most significant decisions that you must make in any legal matter is whether or not you will be hiring a lawyer.
There are advantages and disadvantages to using an attorney, and there are many elements that will affect your decision.
Ultimately, you have to decide which path is right for you.
Some factors influence whether or not you will hire representation and how important having a lawyer is to your situation.
The more contentious your divorce, the more complicated and messy it has the potential to become.
While this will rack up huge legal bills, it will also make the decision to hire an attorney easier.
If marital issues need to be resolved, such as allocation of property or debt, child custody, or spousal support, having someone to advise and guide you through finding solutions and fighting for your best interests will provide peace of mind.
Similarly, if you and your spouse have a large number of assets to which you both feel entitled, it may be challenging to find a peaceful solution without the aid of legal representation.
When selecting an attorney, you must find someone who has experienced, has a good track record, and with whom you feel comfortable.
Do not hire someone who does not seem trustworthy or is not reputable.
This divorce is a major life event, and you want to be sure to select the best legal representation.
Of course, the cost will factor into your decision, but there are good lawyers in most price ranges.
What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney?
At this point, you may be wondering how to identify a good lawyer.
You will want to look for several qualities when exploring potential attorneys to represent you in your divorce.
First, look at each attorney’s skill and experience level.
Do they have a good reputation?
You want to feel confident that your case is in the hands of someone well-versed in family law matters.
A reasonable divorce attorney should be able to answer any questions about complicated divorces.
If they do not know an answer offhand, they should have superior research skills and locate these answers.
Communication is also crucial.
You will need someone who is responsive to emails and phone calls and can answer your questions.
You must remember that popular attorneys tend to have many clients, so time may be limited.
Suppose a lawyer is unable to respond in a reasonable amount of time to your inquiries and requests.
Do they have support staff (other attorneys, paralegals, administrative staff) who can address your concerns?
Make sure that you choose a direct and clear lawyer who is understandable in their speech to know you are well represented in court.
Interpersonal skills, or “people skills,” are a must-have for a divorce attorney.
You’ll want someone you feel comfortable speaking to and confiding in.
They should be able to recognize when it is appropriate to be professional and when they can be more casual in manner.
How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney
Now that you have identified some essential qualities that you would like in your attorney, it’s time to locate your representation.
This representation is someone you will be spending a lot of time talking to and will be entrusting an essential part of your life to, so you want to be sure to make the right choice.
With that in mind, the process of finding the right lawyer can take some time.
First, you have to decide on your budget.
It’s crucial for both you and your potential attorney to be transparent about your ability to pay and the lawyer’s expectations for how much everything will cost.
A good rule of thumb is to budget for more than you predict the case to cost you.
There can always be an unexpected cost or delay, and you do not want to lose your representation.
If you are clear about what you can afford and choose a straightforward lawyer about their pricing, you have one less thing to stress about.
The first step to hiring an attorney is compiling a pool of available candidates.
Make a list of available attorneys in your area.
Before ever speaking to any of them, you can narrow down your list by doing a couple of things.
First, talk to friends and family who live locally and have been through a divorce.
Find out which lawyer they used and get their honest opinion on their services.
Then, start checking online for reviews.
Read testimonials from their past clients on legal review sites and social media.
Make a note of anyone who stands out to you, and eliminate anyone you do not feel good about.
You can further pare down your list by contacting the attorney’s offices and speaking to the attorney or paralegal about pricing.
Understand that they can only give estimates and ranges based on their fees and past experiences and that the total cost will depend on the outcome of your case.
Anyone who is too far beyond your budget can be eliminated before you ever meet with them.
Next, schedule a consultation with your first choice.
You can explain your situation and get their feedback while asking simple interview questions to determine if they are a good fit.
If you feel confident with your first choice and wish to hire them, go for it!
If you need to review other candidates, move on to your next option and schedule a consultation with them.
Remember, before selecting a lawyer, make sure that you feel good about your choice, are comfortable with them, they appear knowledgeable and experienced, and you develop a good rapport during the interview.
Also, before hiring an attorney, always check with the New York Bar Association to verify that their information is accurate and up-to-date and they are registered with the bar.
You can also inquire over the phone as to whether they are in good standing.
Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys
Here are some basic questions to ask a lawyer before hiring them for a divorce.
Do you specialize in divorces, and how long have you been handling cases like mine?
Specialists are better than generalists in law.
Knowing their experience is crucial for deciding whether to trust them.
How long do you take to return my phone calls?
Lawyers have different timetables and often handle several cases simultaneously.
A typical delay of a few hours is fair and reasonable.
Expect to pay more if you want a lawyer to work exclusively on your case.
What is your strategy for my case?
Knowing how a lawyer intends to proceed can help you organize information and prepare for things.
How do you plan to charge me?
Make sure to ask about things like meeting with other lawyers, secretaries, and so on.
What costs besides yours do you expect?
The divorce proceeding may require things like visits to physicians and accountants, private investigators, and so on.
What’s your total estimate for this case?
This is a bit of a trick question.
Honest lawyers will tell you that the cost can vary greatly depending on how long it takes and how complicated it ends up being, especially if your partner starts changing their mind about things.
Attorneys who give very low estimates might not be totally honest.
Will anyone else in your office work on my case?
You deserve to know who has access to your sensitive information.
How do you predict a judge will rule?
Generally, the closer to an even split you are, the more likely a judge will simply grant it.
Requests that deviate too much are harder to predict.
Can you help me understand the tax implications of this divorce?
They might not be able to, but they can usually recommend an accountant who can figure out the financial implications.
Is the Initial Consultation Free?
Many attorneys do offer an initial consultation for free.
When you contact the office to inquire about pricing, make sure to ask about this.
If a free consultation is not available, you may find attorneys offering this initial session at a reduced rate.
Sometimes, they will apply the consultation cost to your retainer fee if you decide to hire them.
Look into programs that provide attorney consultations.
Many states, including New York, have legal assistance programs that provide free or reduced-cost consultations that you may be able to take advantage of before meeting with an attorney.
One such program is the New York State Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service.
This program will connect you with an attorney for an initial 30-minute consultation for $35 or less.
There is low-income financial assistance available on the website as well.
Is the Meeting Confidential?
Is the meeting confidential? The short answer is yes.
Even if you do not hire that attorney, the details of your initial conversation should be confidential.
There are a select few limitations to this, such as if you admitted to the lawyer that you intend on committing a crime and they are compelled to report it.
In most cases, should you consult with an attorney but do not hire them, it would still be a conflict of interest for your spouse to hire this lawyer.
This rule is to protect both of you from confidential information interfering with your case.
Pros of Using an Attorney
There are several pros to using a divorce attorney in New York.
Here are some of the main reasons you should do it.
- Attorneys have legal knowledge. They understand things like the details of New York's laws, what you’re entitled to receive, and what elements could affect your case. Lawyers also understand what courts will focus on and prioritize when deciding whether to grant specific requests from parties.
- Attorneys can reduce your stress. Divorces are stressful enough for most people, especially if they’re contested. Working with an attorney means you have an expert who fully understands the process and mainly needs you to provide certain information and signatures. That frees you up to spend your time preparing for the next part of your life.
- You’ll get help with paperwork. Divorces involve quite a lot of paperwork from everyone involved, often to the point of submitting several different forms at each stage of the process. That’s not even getting into matters like discovery, which can get extremely complicated. Lawyers also help ensure that everything gets filed on time.
- Lawyers are generally neutral. While an attorney works for you, they don’t have an emotional stake in your relationship. That means they can be far more fair and unbiased about things like dividing assets and negotiating for custody of children. This factor is particularly true when lawyers negotiate with each other.
- Most divorce lawyers are affordable. Naturally, lengthy and complicated cases will get expensive. However, honest lawyers try to minimize their time working for you, so you don’t need to pay any more than necessary. It will never be cheaper than trying to do everything yourself but it might be worthwhile to pay a professional.
Cons of Using an Attorney
There are also disadvantages to hiring an attorney during this process.
- Lawyers do cost money. While a good lawyer keeps their prices reasonable, they can be too expensive for most clients to hire for extended periods. This consideration may encourage you to file an uncontested divorce to keep costs down even if you want to contest things.
- You may disagree. You give up an element of control when you bring in a third party to assist you. You may disagree with your attorney’s suggestions and might find it challenging to navigate this situation. Attorney's are supposed to advise you and represent what you want to do but people can have personality conflicts.
- Lawyers can cause additional drama. People can react if they’re surprised when you hire a lawyer. They may start making assumptions about your plans or panic and do something drastic. More emotional people are more likely to create or respond to drama, real or perceived, during a divorce case. Please note, this typically only happens in an uncontested divorce.
This is the primary deterrent for most people who opt out of representation when going to court.
You also give up an element of control when you bring in a third party to assist you.
You may disagree with your attorney’s suggestions and might find it challenging to navigate this situation.
Filing for Divorce in New York
As you have gathered by now, the process to obtain a divorce in New York can be a lengthy one.
The first step is actually filing for the divorce.
The filing process can be daunting if you do not know where to begin or how the procedures work.
We have prepared a detailed overview of the filing process, including an explanation of each step so that you can proceed confidently.
Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.
Preparing Your Divorce Forms
The first step to get your divorce started is filling out your forms.
Before you start, make sure you have the appropriate documentation handy so that you have all of the correct information available.
These can include:
- Financial documents (pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, retirement or savings accounts)
- Information about properties (Mortgage or lease statements, car titles, loans)
- Documents about life insurance
- Personal info for your family members (birth certificates, social security numbers)
Once you are ready to begin, decide which forms are appropriate for you.
If you have an attorney, they can assist you with this portion.
The New York State Court System offers divorce forms and packets so that you can fill out and file your complaint yourself.
There is a packet for simple uncontested divorces if you and your spouse agree on the divorce terms and there are no children.
If there are child custody issues or alimony, there are additional forms to fill out and file.
If you suspect the divorce will be contested, there are more forms available.
You must fill out a Verified Complaint and a Summons with Notice.
A Summons with Notice is a form that indicates your desire for divorce and notifies the other party that you have filed for divorce.
These papers will indicate the reason for the divorce and include requests for relief about child support, custody, property distribution, and more.
The Instructions for New York State’s Divorce Packet contains valuable information that will assist you in filing for your divorce.
Or for a more assisted, streamlined and user friendly process, you can use a reputable online divorce service.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Filing Your Divorce Forms
Once you have filled out and checked over all of your documents for accuracy, it is time to file.
Locate your local County Clerk's office. This office is where you will go to file your paperwork.
There will be a fee associated with court costs.
This fee will buy you an Index Number (or your official case number).
The court will file all documents relating to your case under this Index Number.
The Index Number comes with a standard $210 fee.
New York has an additional document called a “Poor Person’s Waiver” that allows you to proceed without paying this fee.
Serving Your Spouse
The next step is to serve your spouse.
In addition to the Verified Complaint and the Summons with Notice, notices may be issued that must be served, such as a Notice of Automatic Orders and Notice of Maintenance Guidelines.
If you have children together under the age of 21, a copy of the Child Support Standards Chart must also be included.
All of these must be served to your spouse.
“Served” means handed to them personally.
However, you are not allowed to serve your spouse yourself.
If your spouse is a resident of New York, then the server must also be a resident over the age of 18.
If they live out of state, they must be served by someone authorized in that state to serve legal documents.
This person can be a sheriff, an attorney, or someone else, depending on state guidelines.
Once you have filed your initial paperwork with the county clerk, you have 120 days to serve your ex.
You must know their present location so that you do not spend this time searching for them.
If your divorce is uncontested, your ex may sign the Defendant Affidavit and return it before having your case placed on the court calendar.
In a contested divorce, the process will be different and harder to resolve.
After your ex has been served, there is a 40-day waiting period before you can return to the county clerk’s office and have the matter placed on the court calendar.
However, if your spouse signs the Defendant Affidavit, they can waive the waiting period, and you can proceed into court quickly.
Under New York State Domestic Relations Law §236, complete financial disclosure is required for any case that involves child support, alimony / spousal support, or maintenance.
One of the initial forms required in the divorce packet is the Statement of Net Worth.
You and your spouse will each fill this out, listing all property, debts, income, and other financial information.
The court uses this form to determine if one party is owed maintenance or alimony. It also assists in dividing assets and debts fairly.
Online Divorce in New York
In addition to the forms available through the court system, New York residents have the option of using an online service to file for divorce.
Online divorce services will allow you to input your information to prepare your documents cheaply, quickly and easily.
If your divorce is straightforward, this may be a good option for you.
You can save money on attorneys and additional fees and ensure that your documents are filled out and filed correctly.
This is a faster, more accessible way to move on from this portion of your life while also providing the peace of mind you need while navigating this complex process.
The advantages of using an online divorce service are not having to hire an attorney and saving money, guaranteeing that your documents are filled out correctly, and a shorter divorce process.
The downside to these services is that they are not available for contested or contentious divorces, and they do still charge a fee that usually falls in the $100-$300 range.
Which is a small price to pay for the valuable help they can provide you and guaranteeing that the court accepts your divorce paperwork.
How to Qualify For an Online Divorce in New York
To use an online divorce system, your case must be uncontested.
Uncontested means that you and your spouse agree on all matters and are willing to get divorced.
If you are proceeding with an uncontested divorce and you meet both the grounds requirements and the residency requirements for the state of New York, you may qualify to utilize online divorce services.
Do You Still Need to Go to Court?
If you are using an online divorce service, you may not ever need to go to court.
In most cases, you are still required to file the forms yourself .
Although some online divorce services will do this for you for an additional fee.
However, they will be fully completed and ready to file, and all you have to do is print them and either mail them in or deliver them in person.
If your divorce is uncontested and simple, you can get court approval without having to appear in the courtroom.
This process can be over as quickly as three months.
The time limit all depends on your circumstances, and nothing is ever guaranteed in the world of matrimonial law.
Still, it is definitely possible to obtain an order of divorce from the New York State Supreme Court without actually going in front of a judge.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Divorce in New York
The length of time it takes to obtain a divorce in New York can vary.
There are a few elements that contribute to a longer or shorter process.
The timeline for a divorce relies on you, your spouse, your attorneys, the court systems, and all of the factors that go into your specific case.
The most significant deciding factor is whether or not the divorce is contested or uncontested and just how contentious or complicated it is.
Uncontested Divorce Timelines
Uncontested divorces typically take the least amount of time to be finalized.
When you self-file correctly or use an online divorce service or an attorney to file for an uncontested divorce, there is a possibility of never having to appear in court.
The brevity of your wait to finalize your divorce is dependent on how quickly you take the appropriate steps and how quickly your spouse takes the proper steps.
Once you file, you have 120 days to serve your spouse with the appropriate paperwork.
If you wait the entire four months, you are extending your timeline. It is best to serve them quickly.
This is because once your spouse has been served, a 40-day countdown begins before you can file to have your case submitted to the judge and placed on the court calendar.
This is to allow you and your ex time to reconsider and give the legal system time to take care of other cases.
However, if your ex acts quickly and signs the Defendant Affidavit, they can waive the 40-day waiting period, and you can request that the Clerk of Court place you on the court calendar.
Because of the various contributing factors, you can extend even an uncontested divorce past your desired timeline.
Assuming everything is done quickly and the waiting period is waived, your divorce can be over in just a few weeks.
If you or your ex drag your feet, the courts are backed up, or any other obstacle occurs, it may take several months.
Contested Divorce Timelines
A contested divorce tends to be more complicated than an uncontested divorce.
This type of divorce happens when you and/or your ex do not agree on the divorce terms.
Depending on the severity of your disagreements, your willingness or reluctance to compromise or work out issues, this can be a lengthy process.
Since contested divorces require intervention from a judge, it may be a long wait to get into court.
Of course, the first hearing will decide only on temporary and interim measures and will not be the last time you enter the courtroom.
Disagreements such as child custody or support, alimony or maintenance, assets and debts, and even disagreements on the grounds for divorce will delay the process.
A contested divorce could take a few months, or it could take a year or more.
We suggest that you take advantage of advice from your attorney and mediation programs to help move you and your spouse in the right direction to finalize your divorce quicker.
Factors That Affect the Divorce Timeline
As any competent lawyer can tell you, the actual timeline for getting a divorce in New York varies based on several factors.
Uncontested divorces are easily the fastest, usually resolving within several weeks of filing.
However, this timeline gets a lot longer if you’re divorcing by publication or not petitioning the court for a summary judgment.
Contested divorces are rarely over in less than three months and can easily stretch up to two years in complicated cases.
Here are the most common factors that can affect the timeline for getting a divorce in New York:
- Child Custody: Custody disputes tend to be particularly contentious. While the court may order things a certain way if one parent is better prepared to care for children, families who are both capable of caring for them rarely back down easily. Custody proceedings may go to outside mediation or arbitration to settle it.
- Child Support: This isn’t the same thing as child custody. Child support payments can vary significantly based on factors like earnings potential and available assets. Parties can agree to waive child support, pay it over time, or even pay it in one lump fee.
- Child Expenses: The parent with custody of a child isn’t always responsible for their expenses. There could be disagreements on how to pay for their education and medical bills, insurance coverage, and extracurricular expenses.
- Division of Property: Most couples divide their communal assets 50/50 during a divorce. Any refusals or arguments here could significantly slow down the timeline for getting a divorce in New York. Note that private property, owned before the marriage, isn’t generally divided in New York.
- Division of Debt: Many debts don’t disappear just because you’re separating. To put it another way, most people don’t want to take on any more debt than necessary. Deciding who is responsible for a percentage of each debt can be contentious. The bigger the debt, the more this is likely to slow down the proceedings.
- Alimony: Alimony is an additional monthly payment, usually from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning one. The primary purpose is to help the other spouse get back to a good economic position since they’re likely to lose a considerable amount of household income at the end of the divorce. Arguments over alimony amounts are typical.
The things above are some of the most common factors affecting divorce timelines.
Here are some additional factors that can affect the divorce timelines in New York:
- Accounting: This doesn’t take long for households with few assets, but those with complex investments and asset ownership might need some time to calculate the value of everything and determine how to divide it.
- Case Loads: Divorce rates tend to be relatively steady, but sudden changes in the number of people asking for one can increase or reduce the timetable. These changes can be hard to predict ahead of time, although an experienced attorney can tell you when delays tend to be shorter each year.
- Contacting Your Spouse: If you can’t reach your spouse, attempting to do so could delay the divorce process by up to several months. Courts expect you to make every reasonable effort to contact them before they finalize the divorce.
- Document Errors: Courts check for the accuracy of document completion when they accept it for filing. If the clerk notices a problem, they might return the documents and tell you to correct the errors. Some errors can’t be fixed on the spot.
- Mediation: Mediation is when you and your spouse try to come to an agreement on contested matters in front of a neutral arbiter who manages the discussion. You can do this voluntarily, but in some situations, the court may order you to do it before proceeding with the case.
- Name Changes: This rarely delays cases. However, in contexts where someone is using their name as a brand for business reasons, but the other spouse has control of the business, this can become a point of contention.
- Judicial Concern: Finally, judges can typically pause or delay things for almost any reason if they’re concerned about some aspect of the case. This practice isn’t common, exactly, but they could do something like delaying their approval of the divorce until a child has finished their school year.
A divorce is final in New York once a Supreme Court judge issues a final divorce judgment.
Your divorce certificate is then entered into the public record, and it is official.
Divorce Costs in New York
If you are planning on getting a divorce in New York, one of the most pressing questions you have is going to be, “how much will this cost me?”
The simple answer is that there is no simple answer.
Again, there is a stark difference between uncontested and contested divorces when it comes to cost.
Whether or not you hire an attorney, how you file for your divorce, any complications that arise, and other possible elements will affect the costs of your divorce.
In more uncomplicated uncontested divorce cases, you could obtain a divorce for just a few hundred dollars using an online divorce service.
In highly contentious contested divorce cases, you could spend a few thousand or even tens of thousands of dollars.
There are some fixed fees and some variables, so we will break down all of the possibilities for you to prepare yourself (and your wallet).
New York requires some fixed court fees.
These are uniform throughout the state, and everyone has to pay them.
A waiver will classify a qualified person as a “poor person” and waive the fees.
To find out if this is an option for you, speak to the County Clerk’s office and apply for the poor person’s waiver.
This waiver will eliminate the court fees.
Even in a simple, uncontested divorce, there are fees to be paid.
As mentioned earlier, the fee for purchasing an Index Number, which starts the action, is $210 due upon filing your initial paperwork at the County Clerk’s office.
Additional court fees are incurred for having the judgment signed, and a Note of Issue is created. These fees total $125.
With these together, the minimum amount of court fees you will pay is $335.
If you wish to file a motion, there is an additional $45.
If you want to enter a Stipulation of Settlement, the fee is $35.
As you can see, court fees can rack up quickly
Attorney fees will make up the majority of your divorce costs.
Attorneys bill by the hour.
Their rate may vary, but in New York, divorce lawyers typically come with a price tag between $200 and $450 an hour.
When you hire an attorney, he or she will set a retainer fee.
This fee is a lump sum you pay them to begin their services with you.
They will bill their time against the retainer until it runs out, at which time you will start to incur debt with the lawyer.
Retainer fees usually are $4 -10,000.
However, the retainer may run out quickly.
This depends on how much time the lawyer has to put into your case.
If a contested divorce drags on for a long time and the issues are complicated and require multiple hearings, excessive paperwork, counsel, and investigation, the bill for your representative can be sky-high.
A bit of a warning, if your spouse is showing narcissism warning signs or you have confirmed they are a narcissist, your attorney costs will undoubtably rise when getting a divorce from a narcissist.
We put together a guide “How to Divorce a Narcissist – Tactics To Ensure You Win” if this sounds like your spouse.
Litigation costs simply refer to the expenses incurred when you and your spouse do not agree to your divorce and must go to court.
This can be anything from additional attorney’s fees to court fees to even third parties’ payments.
Sometimes, in a contentious divorce requiring resolution in custody matters, things can get tricky.
The judge may order the services of a Guardian Ad Litem.
This is a third party meant to represent your child or children.
Guardian Ad Litem fees can range from a few hundred to upwards of a thousand dollars.
You and your spouse will be required to split the payment.
Like an attorney, the Guardian Ad Litem’s time will be billed against the retainer you and your ex pay.
If their time exceeds this retainer, you will both be billed for the remainder.
In complex custody cases, the judge may order other outside services, such as drug testing or psychiatric evaluations.
You will be required to pay for these items out of pocket. Drug tests at an approved facility or physician’s office are usually around $100-$200.
Psychiatric evaluations can be $1,000 or even more, paid directly to the court-appointed psychiatrist.
In an uncontested divorce, any of these items are not likely to be ordered since you will agree to the terms of the divorce outside of court.
In a contested divorce, however, it is easy to pile up lots of unexpected costs.
While mediation may still cost money, it is a helpful tool to reduce costs in a divorce.
Once you and your spouse have come to an agreement, you can settle and proceed with an uncontested divorce, saving you both time and money.
Mediation may cost $1,000-$3,000 or more, depending on the length of time you spend in sessions and the other services provided (such as drafting your agreement or filing with the court).
The good news is, you and your spouse will split the costs of mediation!
The NY State Unified Court System website offers information on programs available to reduce the cost of mediation.
There are several options to reduce the cost of mediation, such as:
- Court-based mediation programs
- Community Dispute Resolution Centers
- Clinics that offer free mediation to divorcing couples in New York State
Utilizing one of the free or reduced-cost mediation programs and proceeding with an uncontested divorce will drastically reduce the price tag on your divorce!
Online Divorce Service
Using an online divorce service is not only a quicker and more convenient way to dissolve your marriage, but it can also be much cheaper!
The price ranges for online services vary drastically – from an advertised $99 to close to $1,000. This range is based on several factors.
The services offered by each one will contribute to the costs.
The pricier services offer accuracy and court acceptance guarantees as well as filing your papers for you.
They will not only complete your documents but will serve your ex and make sure that the ball stays rolling on your uncontested divorce.
When choosing an online divorce service in New York, you must do your research and know exactly what you are paying for.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Custody Considerations in New York
Working out the custody of children is bound to make a divorce more complicated.
Unless you and your spouse can agree on custody and visitation terms, you will have to make your case in court and allow a judge to decide.
This can lead to more stress, time, and money being spent on your case than you predicted.
The state of New York considers all children under the age of 18 to be minors subject to a custody order.
The judge and the court system’s goal is to rule in the best interest of a single child or children.
Keep these two types of custody in mind:
- Physical Custody applies to the parent with which the child resides. This can be split in two ways. Joint custody signifies both parents will have the kid and be responsible for their physical care an equal, or close to equal, amount of time. With sole physical custody, one parent has the majority of the time with the child and the other has visitation.
- Legal custody applies to the power to make major decisions about the child. These can be medical, educational, or religious decisions. As with physical custody, legal custody can be either sole or joint.
It is possible to have sole physical custody and joint legal custody, or the other way around.
The factors that go into deciding upon custody are as follows:
- Age, gender, and health status of the child
- General and specific needs of the child
- The environment of both parents’ homes
- Ability to provide for the child
- Relationship of the child with each parent
- Preference of the child (depending on age)
Child custody can be divided in a few different ways.
Even joint custody can vary.
Parents can have a “50-50” arrangement that means the child will change households every week or two.
Joint custody is not always perfectly equal.
When one parent has sole custody, the non-custodial parent is usually entitled to visitation.
The amount and length of these visits depend on the circumstances of the family.
As we’ve discussed, when child custody is contested, a divorce case can get even uglier.
It can be a traumatic experience for parents and children alike.
This is why it is strongly recommended to attempt mediation before litigation.
The costs of fighting a custody battle with your divorce can be sky-high.
There is often highly emotional, mud-slinging testimony that will fracture your relationship with your ex and even possibly with your child.
Third parties, witnesses, caseworkers, attorneys, and Guardian ad Litems may all be required to attend custody hearings.
Several of these will cost you their hourly rate during the proceedings.
The State of New York attempts to always rule in favor of the child.
Before heading into court, make sure that both you and your spouse are considering what is best for your children.
Child Support Considerations in New York
Unlike child custody, child support in New York extends until the child is 21 years of age unless the child is married and self-supporting.
This also excludes children in the military.
In New York, child support includes the responsibility to maintain health insurance on your child until the age of 21.
Child support is usually paid from the non-custodial parent to the parent with sole physical custody.
In some cases, a couple with joint custody will still have an exchange of child support.
The role of support is to offset the costs of raising a child and ensure that they will have a similar standard of living in both households.
Child support is dependent on the income of both parties.
This chart shows the annual obligation of a non-custodial parent in each income bracket.
A worksheet is included in figuring out the exact amount of child support a judge is likely to order.
Factors That Influence Child Support Calculations
There are a few factors that influence what you’ll pay for child support.
- Custodial time: Typically, the parent who spends less time physically with the child will be ordered to pay child support. If the time spent with the child is closer to equal, this factors into the amount they have to pay since they will be responsible for the child’s care on the days that they are in their custody.
- Income of both parents: If one parent makes significantly more than the other, they will likely have to pay more in support. Likewise, if the custodial parent makes a significant amount over the non-custodial parent’s income, they may be entitled to less or no support. The amount of child support you are ordered to pay depends on how much the court believes you can reasonably afford with your income.
- Private agreements: If you do not wish for the court to set a child support amount, you may settle on an amount amongst yourselves. This amount is still subject to a judge’s approval, but it could be more or less than the standard amount the court would order.
If one party is ordered to pay child support and fails to follow through, you have the option of filing for contempt of court.
A Child Support Enforcement Unit will seek to compel the non-custodial parent to pay what is owed.
Alimony Considerations in New York
Alimony, or spousal support, is when one spouse is ordered to pay the other a set amount for a certain length of time following a divorce.
The purpose of alimony is to ensure that neither party experiences a disruption in lifestyle due to the divorce and can maintain a similar quality of life.
There are three types of alimony in New York:
- Temporary alimony is the amount the judge orders while the divorce is ongoing. It lasts until a permanent order is signed.
- Rehabilitative alimony is designed to support one spouse while getting on their feet until they can help themselves outside of the marriage. This happening is common in cases where one parent left the workforce to stay home to raise children. It allows one spouse to obtain education or job skills.
- Permanent alimony is used in extenuating circumstances such as very long marriages, cases where one spouse is either ill or unable to enter the workforce, and divorces where one party significantly out-earns the other.
The use of alimony can ensure that the dissolution of a marriage does not cause one party to become destitute or lose their quality of life.
It ensures fairness between the parties even after they have parted ways.
Factors That Affect Alimony
Several factors affect your alimony. These include:
- The two parties’ health status and age will help determine if alimony is necessary and for how long.
- The current income of both parties contributes to deciding on a fair amount for temporary alimony.
- The earning potential of both spouses will determine whether rehabilitative or permanent alimony is appropriate, the length of time it is necessary, and the amount they will pay.
- The length of the marriage is essential when deciding if and for how long maintenance should be ordered.
- The standard of living established throughout the marriage is also an essential element when a judge is deciding on alimony payments.
- The judge will also consider other support being exchanged, such as child support.
- Contributing factors to the end of the marriage are also considered. If a spouse cheated or was abusive, they are more likely to pay alimony than amicable parties in an uncontested divorce.
A judge will typically use a calculator to decide on an alimony amount.
There are a few different ways it is calculated, but they always try to make sure the amount is fair and does not cause hardship on either party.
The same goes for the duration of the payments.
Division of Assets
An essential part of a divorce is the division of assets. If you or your spouse acquired property or financial assets during your marriage, that is considered marital property that you both are entitled to.
New York state law indicates that New York is an equitable division state.
What this means is that all assets will be decided equitably.
This does not necessarily mean equality.
The court strives to make sure that the division of assets is fair.
During your divorce, you have the option of dividing property together and deciding who is entitled to which assets.
If you cannot agree, it will be up to the court to determine.
This might mean an unfavorable outcome for both of you.
The judge will look at either party’s current income and potential income, the needs of the children involved, the present situation of both parties, the presence of spousal or child support, and other determining factors when deciding how to divide the property.
Real estate can refer to any land or homes owned by a couple.
When determining who remains the family homeowner, for example, a judge might consider which parent will have custody of any children who might be involved.
Often, the custodial parent will remain in control of the family home to cause less disruption to the children.
Rental properties, vacation homes, and other real estate will be divided based on the other contributing factors.
Even if your spouse purchased real estate in only their name, you are both entitled to it if they bought it during your marriage.
The judge will usually give you the option to liquidate it and divide the proceeds or for one party to buy out the other party’s interest in the asset.
401k, IRA, Investments
Money held in retirement accounts is only considered for the division if the money was earned during the marriage and there are extenuating circumstances.
Usually, the owner of these accounts will be granted continued ownership.
If a retirement account is deemed joint property, the judge will look at the value of the accounts and any investments acquired during the period that the parties were married and decide how to divide them.
Stocks can be a little trickier since the stock market is unpredictable.
You may be assigned ownership of stocks, or they may be liquidated and the value split.
When deciding how to divide assets, a judge must consider which assets are attached to a business owned by either party.
Dividing business assets could disrupt the business.
These situations may be trickier to divide, but the judge will consider all factors and try to make a wise and fair decision.
If one party is the sole owner of a business and the other spouse was not involved in running it, that decision is more straightforward.
Usually, only a partner in the company would be entitled to a portion of the profits.
Common-Law Marriage Considerations in New York
Common-law marriage refers to a relationship where the two parties live together and consider themselves to be spouses.
Some states recognize common-law marriage as a legal alternative to being married in an official capacity.
New York is not one of these states.
Since New York abolished common-law marriage in 1933, New York will not legally recognize your marriage if not established through the proper governmental channels.
Therefore, divorce laws also do not apply to the dissolution of these relationships.
However, if you and your spouse were legally married under common-law in a different state that recognizes common-law, New York will recognize your marriage as valid.
If you or your spouse seeks a divorce in a case like this, it is strongly suggested that you hire a lawyer to navigate these complex waters.
Alternatives to Divorce in New York
Divorce is not only stressful and costly. It is also traumatizing.
Many people have reasons for not wishing to seek a divorce, even if they feel the relationship is over or is in danger.
If you are not comfortable divorcing your partner, you may still have some options.
New York recognizes legal separations.
A legal separation is obtained through a separation agreement filed with the court.
Under a legal separation, you and your spouse will live separately and follow the contract you laid out.
This separation can last as long as you would like.
A separation is helpful if you are not sure if you want to end the marriage officially.
Once a legal separation is in place, any property or assets obtained will be separate property, meaning that if you proceed with a divorce, your spouse is not entitled to these assets.
A legal separation leaves room for reconciliation, avoids the costs of divorce, and provides protection.
You can include spousal and child support in your agreement, as well as custody and visitation.
Some people choose separation for religious reasons if their faith does not allow divorce.
Whatever your reason, legal separation is a valid alternative to divorce.
Rather than a divorce, some parties opt for annulment.
This annulment does not precisely signify the end of a marriage but instead erases it and declares that the marriage never existed.
To qualify for an annulment in New York, you must have a trial and hearing before a judge.
The grounds for annulment in New York State are as follows:
- One or both parties were under 18 at the time of the marriage. In this case, if you continue living together and being married after both parties are 18 years old, you no longer qualify for an annulment.
- One or both spouses are mentally impaired and unable to consent to the marriage.
- One of the parties is physically incapable of sexual relations.
- Either spouse has had an incurable mental illness for at least five years.
- A spouse consented to the marriage under duress, coercion, or fraud.
Please note: even if you obtain an annulment, child support and custody still apply if there were children born of the marriage.
Work It Out Together
If you are already seeking a divorce, this may seem like a long shot.
However, some relationships are recoverable.
If you wish to continue the marriage, there are ways to reconnect with your spouse.
Talking it out, spending more time together, taking a vacation, and other steps are available to you to preserve your marriage.
Couples counseling is an option when the end is in sight.
A trained professional may be able to guide you and your partner through your issues and help you to revive what you previously felt was a lost cause.
If there are problems you wish to resolve within your marriage, you may be able to find a solution with the help of a marriage counselor before seeking a divorce.
Considering a divorce can really take an emotional toll on even the strongest people.
If you are in need of therapy with both privacy and convenience, we recommend Online-Therapy.com. Their incredible service gives you access to instant professional help, on any device, wherever you are in the world.
If both parties are in agreement, an open marriage may be the thing to save your relationship.
In this arrangement, you and your spouse are free to pursue romantic connections outside of the marriage.
It can be a difficult relationship dynamic to navigate and entirely depends on the consent of both of you.
Sometimes divorcing couples really want to date as soon as possible, only to find out that the grass isn't always greener.
Having an open marriage could be a solution to deciding if you really want to end your divorce and find another companion.
The concept of a “parenting marriage” is one in which the relationship ends.
Still, you continue to live together and co-parent in the same household to keep the family unit together and retain stability for the children.
This possibility won’t work in all cases, but it is a way to preserve your relationship while simply removing the romantic elements.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.