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While courthouses are limiting access to the public to slow the spread of COVID-19, court clerks are still going to work and documents are being processed, including divorce case filings, just at a slower rate.
Filing documents by mail, which is an option in all states, is often overlooked by divorce filers. Although filing by mail is somewhat inferior to e-filing because it's slower, requires multiple copies of documents, and may carry a slight risk for virus transmission, it keeps people away from the clerk’s office, which helps reduce the spread of coronavirus.
In any divorce case, you will need to include three of most documents (the original for the court and a copy for each spouse). Some forms may require just the original. This is the case for civil coversheets, vital statistics forms sent to the state, and some documents that contain confidential information. A few states require additional copies of certain pleadings in case they are needed for some other reason, usually related to minor children. The filing procedures included with your documents will tell you how many copies of each document need to be filed. Keep the original and the copies together and put them in the mailing envelope in the order they appear on the filing cover letter. If you have conflicting information about the number of copies required, remember that it's better to send too many rather than too few.
The cover letter tells the court clerk everything you have inside the envelope--the name of each document, how many copies of each are included, the amount and method of payment (check, cashier's check, money order) for the filing fee enclosed, and what you would like done with the paperwork--i.e. file them and return the file-stamped copies to you. In a few states all paperwork is filed at once, but in most, filing the paperwork is a two-step process. Include a filing cover letter every time you mail in paperwork to be filed. The cover letter should be on the top of the stack of your documents when put them in the envelope. Although the number of documents being filed will vary by state, in most states, a 9 x 12 envelope will be the right size.
Seventeen states plus D.C. have the same filing fee statewide: AK ($150), CA ($435, $450 Riverside and San Francisco counties), CO ($230), CT ($360 plus $50 marshal fee), DC ($120), ID ($207), IA ($185), ME ($120), MD ($165), MA ($200), NE ($158), NJ ($300), NY ($210), ND ($80), RI ($160), SC ($150), SD ($95), and WA ($314).
The filing fees in the 32 other states varies from county to county. More information on filing fees by state is available at here.
All courthouses accept cashier’s checks and money orders. Many, though not all, accept personal checks so if you need to use one, call the court clerk to confirm that is an acceptable method of payment.
The court clerk will keep the original paperwork and then return the remaining copies to you. When you include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your name and adequate postage to accommodate the return of both sets of copies to you. Then give the other copy to your spouse.
Doing the following will help avoid the spread of coronavirus during the mailing process:
While the federal court system has had mandatory e-filing for 15 years, the state courts continue to lag behind. As of March 2020, only these 16 states allow you to open a new divorce case using e-filing: CA (16 counties), CT, FL, GA, IL (mandatory), IA (mandatory), IN, MD, NV (Clark only), NY (51 counties), OR, RI, TX, VT, WA, and WI. Other states may offer e-filing, but not in divorce cases, or may offer e-filing in divorce cases, but only once the case has been filed in person at the court clerk's office. Learn more about e-filing your divorce papers here.