It’s possible that doing a DIY divorce could save you money, up front at least, but it’s also possible that a DIY divorce could turn into the biggest headache of your life.
It could also end up costing you a significant amount of money down the road – when there is nothing you can do about it. Navigating legal issues, of which divorce has many, requires knowledge and understanding that most people just don’t have… unless, of course, you’re a lawyer.
“…In a do-it-yourself divorce, you are entirely responsible on your own to obtain this legal knowledge and guidance. You can do your own research, but in the end you may still need to retain lawyers to represent your interests,” says Cris Pastore, Esq.
If you are considering a DIY divorce to save money, take these five things into consideration first.
Trust and Competency
“Marilyn Stowe, a divorce lawyer in the UK, created a list of the pros and cons of DIY divorce and pointed out that without a lawyer to help explain divorce proceedings, people may agree to terms they don’t actually want. ‘You may agree to demands only to discover, sometime later, that you were ‘bilked’ of your rights and entitlements,’ she said.”
“To get an amicable [DIY] divorce, you and your spouse have to agree about how you will deal with each and every issue in your divorce. Then you have to write down all of the terms of your agreement in a form that the court will accept. Then you have to go through the court process, present your documents to the judge, get the judge to approve them, and finalize your divorce. Each step in that process takes time, effort, and energy. Each step is filled with potential problems and pitfalls. If you screw something up, you risk having the judge send you back to the drawing board to try again. Or, worse, the judge may grant your divorce. Then months, or years, later, when you realize you made a mistake, it may be too late to change it,” said divorce coach Karen Covy.
“The problem is, divorce lawyers know the law. You don’t. What’s even more important: divorce lawyers know the judge. They know how the divorce system works. They know what they need to do to get your case done, and done right. Again, you don’t. What’s more, as a non-lawyer, you probably don’t even know what you don’t know,” Covy continued.
If you don’t have a complete, comprehensive understanding of your rights and what you are entitled to, as well as how to protect those rights, you are at a serious disadvantage. Your future could depend on hiring the right divorce attorney.
“Because do-it-yourselfers tend to get caught up in the present of who gets which assets and how much is fair, as well as legal fees, they often times fail to consider what the longer term net worth of these assets are that they each take. Some assets might not be as valuable in the longer term than they thought, while others can carry liabilities, which would not be actually realized until many years down the line. One of the biggest things you can miss is the idea that not all assets are created equal. The value of liquid cash or equity in a home versus non-retirement and retirement investment assets cannot be compared equally,” says Pastore. An experienced family law attorney can help you reach an equitable agreement for the division of assets.
“In many ways, doing your own divorce is like doing your own taxes. You can probably muddle through the forms yourself using TurboTax, but you have no way of knowing if the end product you created was right or not. As a result, you can find out years later that you owe the government a gazillion dollars. Or, you may find that you cheated yourself out of a ton of money because you didn’t claim expenses you should have claimed,” says Covy.
Speaking of taxes…
“Divorce always brings tax issues (often very complex) and consequences that many couples will never be aware of until it is too late. For example, transfers and liquidation of marital property, investment accounts, retirement, real estate, timing of filing for the divorce decree and filing statuses, etc. can result in huge tax bites which can rapidly deplete the very assets that divorcing spouses worked so hard to preserve during the marriage. In addition, if alimony is being paid as part of the settlement, it is generally taxable to the recipient and tax deductible to the payer, a tax principle of which many do-it-yourselfers are not aware,” says Pastore.
“If you have minor children together, you must get a lawyer. And don’t just settle for any lawyer. Get a good lawyer. Ask around. Get recommendations. A good lawyer can make all the difference in the world for you and for your children. A good lawyer will know all the tricks that people use to get out of this or that, hide things, etc. A good lawyer will close all the loopholes and protect you from all sides,” says Suzanne Reeves for Divorce Magazine.
Attempting a DIY divorce with children is simply irresponsible. In order to ensure that children are well cared for now and in the future, hire an attorney who can guide you through the process of determining child custody and child support.
“Lawyers are also very good at taking the emotion out of the process as well as defining what’s really important. There were many times when I was too emotionally wounded to fight or defend myself as needed, but I needed someone to make a rational decision or defend against an attack. My lawyer fought hard for me. I will be forever grateful to her,” said Reeves.
“Depending on the county you are filing in (although state-mandated forms and documents are the same), each county has its own customs and self-imposed filing requirements (some very nitpicky in nature) such that if an applicant is unaware, could spend endless hours trying to fight the system to get their decree,” Pastore explains.
And while you may be thinking that you could solicit advice from the court clerk to ensure your forms are filled out correctly, think again.
“A court clerk is not a customer service rep. They are ethically bound and not permitted to give any assistance that could be construed as legal advice. As such, you will either be directed to retain a lawyer to help you or be sent to the basement library to look up the required forms contained in dusty old law books. County courts generally do not post divorce forms on their website for public consumption,” Pastore said. “Online filing services often don’t know these nuances, either. That’s why the safest and most guaranteed way to expedite your divorce is to work with a local firm who is familiar with the local rules and customs of the particular county in which you are filing.”
Charlotte Christian of The Alabama Law Group is the leading family law attorney in the Huntsville, Alabama area. Her experience and expertise will protect your interests, ensure a positive outcome for you, and save you the headache of a DIY divorce. Contact Charlotte today to schedule a consultation!