You know the divorce process is hard. You know it’s expensive to hire an attorney. Is it possible — or desirable – to do it all yourself, without legal assistance? Like most legal questions, the answer is … it depends.
Here are some pros and cons of a DIY divorce without a lawyer’s expert legal help. Also, below is another option for you to consider: divorce mediation.
- The most obvious benefit to acting as your own lawyer is saving money. Lawyers often charge by the hour (even by the tenth of the hour!) so every time you pick up the phone to share your woes, you’re racking up your bill. If you handle the divorce yourself, you don’t have to pay someone else thousands of dollars.
- If your no-fault divorce is relatively straightforward — you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse agree on major issues such as property division and matters involving the kids – you can possibly agree on a binding settlement without involving a third party.
- A good lawyer probably has many cases to handle and yours is not the only one in the pile. If you do-it-yourself, you can make the divorce your top priority and potentially save time. You don’t have to wait for anyone to call you back or take action.
- If you signed a pre-nuptial agreement, there should be fewer contentious issues, enabling you to settle easier than if you have to start agreeing on how to divide the marital property consisting of assets and debts.
- A DIY divorce might be appropriate in a small number of circumstances, such as where there are no children of the marriage, few marital assets, and perhaps the length of the marriage was relatively brief.
Of course, if you handle your divorce by yourself can have unfavorable consequences, some of which you can’t anticipate without professional assistance.
- There’s an old saying that the lawyer who represents themself has a fool for a client.
- It’s nearly impossible for you to be objective during such an emotional process. You need someone with a level head who is not as invested in the outcome, and that person is most certainly a lawyer.
- Some courts won’t even permit a DIY divorce unless you have an uncontested divorce where you and your partner have agreed on all the major issues such as child custody and alimony.
- Divorce laws differ in each state and county, so you can’t take a one-size-fits-all document that you find on the internet or get from a friend. It might be wholly inappropriate for your situation. In addition, it’s all too easy to get the court’s requirements such as filing deadlines wrong. You might wind up in a mess you can’t undo.
- In some jurisdictions, you can’t get the forms online and will need to get them from the county clerk’s office. The divorce court employees might steer you to the right documents, but they certainly can’t give you legal advice. It’s likely they will tell you to consult a lawyer who can answer your questions.
- How will you stay on top of (and understand) the laws? For example, the tax laws about alimony changed recently. Child support is another complex legal issue.
- You probably will need to spend an enormous amount of time and energy to understand what you need to do. A good attorney is well-versed in the nuances of the process and the documents and can more quickly size up your situation.
- You might be completely unaware of your rights under the laws. You could easily step into a minefield and unknowingly forgo significant assets that are rightfully yours.
- Sizable tax consequences follow divisions of property. Therefore, you need to understand not just the divorce laws, but the complicated tax laws. Interpreting the Tax Code is not a game for beginners. You might need an accountant on your side, in addition to a lawyer.
- If you don’t seek the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), you could be agreeing to a settlement that looks “fair” on the surface but might be disadvantageous to you in the long run. A good CDFA can help you understand the future consequences of your choices in different settlement scenarios.
- If your spouse hires a lawyer and you don’t, you might probably be disadvantaged because your spouse will be working with the “pro” factors above in their favor.
When the couple can’t agree on all the top issues, some experts favor the use of a divorce mediator. A divorce mediator is a neutral third party who can help you resolve some matters without going to court for resolution.
In particular, a mediator can keep the lines of communication open which will hopefully lessen the ugliness that can result during the divorce process
A mediator doesn’t give legal advice to either party and can’t take sides. The process is voluntary and confidential, and lawyers generally do not participate unless the mediation fails and the parties have to head to court.
In some cases, mediation is less expensive and speedier than a divorce trial. The final agreement is legally binding. However, you might still need a lawyer to complete and file the necessary paperwork with the court.
The Bottom Line
On the whole, the disadvantages of acting as your own lawyer seem to outweigh the advantages in most cases. While you might save a lot of money, you risk losing your rights to financial assets. If you are unfamiliar with the tax effects of separating property, you could be in for nasty surprises later.
Mediation is a process you might want to consider as part of your divorce proceedings. Because neither of you is represented by counsel, you might be able to craft a settlement at a fraction of the cost and with less acrimony than if you relied on the legal system alone.