Even couples in the worst shape sometimes put off divorce simply because it's too expensive.

Taking the biggest expense out of the equation, Legal Services of New Jersey wants cash-strapped residents to know there is a way to officially call it quits on their relationship without the use of an attorney.

The nonprofit recently updated and expanded one of its most popular publications, "Divorce in New Jersey: A Self-Help Guide." The thorough manual instructs people, in relatively simple terms, how to go through the divorce process on their own, especially if it's an uncomplicated one.

"This will save you legal fees," said Mary McManus Smith, LSNJ's chief counsel for family law. "There are filing fees with the court, although folks who are sufficiently low income who qualify may be eligible for a fee waiver."

Attorney retainers for divorce run around $5,000, and hourly charges can range from hundreds of dollars on up, LSNJ said. Over the past few decades, the number of "pro se" divorce matters has increased.

"There are plenty of people who cannot afford an attorney and end up staying married much longer than they want to be," McManus-Smith said. "And so we wanted people to have the resource to go from A to Z without an attorney if need be."

LSNJ cautions individuals, though, that having a lawyer on board is the best and safest way to go through a divorce.

The divorce guide includes six chapters:

  • Preparing and Filing the Divorce Complaint
  • Serving the Divorce Complaint
  • After Serving the Divorce Complaint
  • Getting a Default Judgment
  • Going to Court When the Defendant is Not in Default
  • Issues After Final Judgment

The self-help manual also takes on alimony, child support and child custody, as well as other issues that could complicate the process.

"The intent, and so far what we've seen, is that people are able to follow along step by step," McManus-Smith said. "We have worked diligently to put every step that may be necessary in that guide."

The 129-page manual is available here at no cost. For $25, the publication can also include all the forms required to file for divorce. Low-income individuals may qualify for free forms as well.