If a married couple amicably chooses to go their separate ways, skipping the attorneys and filing for divorce themselves could seem like a cost-saving decision. An online or DIY divorce could seem quick and easy.
In very limited situations, a divorce pro se (representing yourself) is appropriate. Short marriages, with no children, and little or no shared property can be candidates.
Marriages not suited to a DIY divorce include:
- Child Custody/Parenting Disagreements
The consequences of a poorly written divorce decree can last long after the ink dries. An experienced lawyer knows how each decision can affect their client now and in the future.
Many divorces are best handled by an attorney for multiple reasons.
DIY Divorce Is Subject to the Same Laws
If you check out any online divorce provider, you’ll see plenty of small print. These websites have significant disclaimers for good reason. They may offer some very basic guidance, but that cannot replace an attorney’s advice tailored to your specific situation.
DIY divorces follow the same rules as divorces assisted by an attorney. Basic divorce laws include residency requirements, grounds, and minimum separation (with no-fault grounds).
A divorce pro se still involves both spouses and the court system. The divorce documents must be signed by the spouse and filed at the local County Clerk’s office, along with the court fees.
DIY Divorce Can Miss Valuable Assets
A marriage of almost any length has some assets that were acquired together. Some people have a firm belief in what property is theirs and what belongs to their spouse. Yet you may be leaving behind valuable assets without the help of an attorney.
Examples of financial assets left out of some DIY divorces include:
- Your portion of your spouse’s retirement account
- Your ability to draw Social Security against your spouse’s work history
- Your portion of a military pension
- Your fraction of any upcoming tax refunds
- Airline miles and credit card rewards points that belong to you
Even property owned by your spouse before marriage could potentially be marital property. If your ex owned a home that he uses as a rental, that property could become marital property if the mortgage was paid from your joint checking account, or if you provided upkeep like mowing and painting. An attorney experienced in divorce law would ask questions to better ascertain what is truly separate property and what is marital property.
DIY Can Overlook Expenses & Debt
Is your soon-to-ex still paying down on your joint credit card or are they steadily adding to its balance? Just because one person took responsibility for paying on a debt during the marriage doesn’t mean they will continue once you separate. And if your name is on the account, you will be held just as liable for overdue bills and unpaid accounts. Pulling a credit report can help you understand what loans, credit cards, and other debt is associated with your name. You might be surprised what shows up.
DIY Is Rarely Future Focused
Self-help online software isn’t good at understanding the nuances of your situation. If you have children, your divorce settlement should include important elements beyond monthly custody and support arrangements.
A lawyer can help you navigate important questions such as the following:
- Who will pay for the extracurricular activities of a child?
- Is there a maximum amount per year allocated to sports, activities, music lessons, etc.?
- Who pays for the prom dress/tux?
- Will we buy our child a car when they learn to drive?
- Who can make final decisions on vaccines and other medical treatments?
A divorce attorney knows the types of questions that will need to be answered. Having a strong parenting plan can help reduce the possibility of conflict down the road.