There are somethings you can afford to cross your fingers and hope to get right without much effort. Divorce is not one of them. Too often, I get hired to “fix” the wrongs of a couple who thought (admirably so), that they would agree to all the terms of the divorce, only to wind up three to six months now in the office of the divorce lawyer that they never intended on using in the first place. Why does this happen?
Just like I would never do surgery on myself, I would never suggest the do-it-yourself divorce. A do-it-yourself divorce may be so attractive and seemingly inexpensive- especially at time when money is the commodity that we are fighting over. I tell potential clients that walk through my door, “Whether you have one cent one million, you still need an attorney to represent you.” The following are the reasons why:
- Parenting plans are hard to draft and to understand until you put them into practice. If you lock into a schedule for access, if may be unenforceable later on, or worse yet, not in your child’s best interests.
- In Texas, beware: to change an order in less than one year of the date of finalizing the divorce, you have a high threshold to show imminent harm to the safety and welfare of the children if the child remains in the primary custody of the other parent.
- You can forfeit assets that you didn’t know existed.
- You can accidentally assume tax-burdened debt and be liable for your ex’s creditors.
- Although there are guidelines for child support and spousal maintenance, there are many exceptions to the rules.
- Your relationship may (and odds are will) change with your spouse after the divorce. What seemed reasonable on date of divorce may be unfathomable due to remarriage, new conflict, and changed relationship dynamics.
- The check-the-box pro se (Latin for unrepresented litigant) forms through the counties’ law libraries and websites are not designed for anything custom. They lack the level of detail that most clients need. Often times, I’ve seen petitions and decrees that are self-contradictory, and must be rewritten by an attorney to remedy the errors, costing more than if you hired a lawyer to do it the right way to begin with.
- Modifications of Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationships (if you want to change orders) are expensive and high conflict.
- Sometimes we make bad choices when we are sad, lonely and ready to end the conflict. This is the perfect storm for being “too generous,” acting from a place of fear, and potentially regretting your choice to go unrepresented in divorce.
- There is a reason divorce lawyers cannot be outsourced to call centers in foreign countries. You need a real person to listen to your goals, interests and needs, and most importantly, to help you face this huge life transition.
Another way that I have seen clients try to save money and not hire two attorneys. Instead, they decide for one party to hire a lawyer and the other to go unrepresented. There is a common misnomer that one attorney can represent two parties- which is patently false. According to our fiduciary duty and the nature of the one-way attorney-client privilege, no attorney can represent husband and wife without a conflict of interest. So, if your spouse presents you with a deal too good to refuse from “your mutual lawyer,” don’t bite. There is no mutual lawyer nor is there a quick fix.
While you may feel that you are saving money in the short-term, think of the investment and security of knowing that you have a well-drafted order that is enforceable and has protected your financial interests and the best interests of your children. While I am all for saving money when and where you can, I highly recommend hiring an advocate who can take care of those interests while you take care of healing and transitioning through this difficult time in your life.