Should you DIY your divorce? It depends.
After watching the cheesy lawyer ads on TV, it seems that only those with a law degree can navigate any kind of legal proceedings. At least, maybe that’s what the lawyers would like you to think. Cheap divorce lawyers are readily available, but are they even worth the cost? What about those free lawyer consultations? Is it an actual consultation or just a sales pitch?
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a friend with a law degree who is willing to be your pro bono divorce lawyer, you’ll have to decide early on whether or not you need to retain an attorney. If you’re thinking about going the no-fault route, here’s a high-level overview of how to file for divorce without a lawyer.
Can you both play nice?
Friend of Divorcist, Katherine, 42, was right to be cautious.
“When my attorney ex-husband demanded a divorce, he insisted that we didn’t need to involve lawyers. He drew up the paperwork himself and sent me a copy. I knew better than to trust him, so I retained an experienced divorce attorney. After reviewing his proposal, she laughed…and laughed. He had written the terms to be so favorable to himself it was ridiculous. If you are getting a divorce from an attorney, I personally recommend that you retain the best divorce attorney that you can afford.”
If you’re on the fence about whether to go the DIY route or hire a lawyer, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can you and your spouse agree on all of the terms, including child support and custody arrangements and division of property?
- Do you feel comfortable that your agreement will be fair and equitable? If you have even a shred of doubt, talk to an attorney.
- Are you emotionally equipped to deal with your spouse? If your feelings are raw, it may be worth it to pay for an attorney to minimize contact with your soon-to-be ex.
- Do you feel confident in your understanding of the law? Even if you and your spouse agree on everything, you should be sure that you fully understand tax implications, the impact of future earnings, and if you have kids, what provisions ultimately will be in their best interest.
If you determine that the divorce can be settled without attorneys, then you may be able to save a lot of time and money by filing a no-fault divorce. But first, you’ll have to make sure to check your state’s requirements. The following states are currently considered “no-fault” divorce states:
Keep in mind that laws change all the time, so you should always do your homework. Even if your state falls into the no-fault category, requirements for filing, such as waiting periods and proof of residency, vary from state to state.
Can you both follow the rules?
If your state allows no-fault divorce and you’ve met the requirements for filing, the next step is to contact your local county clerk’s office for the necessary paperwork and filing fee information. If you and your spouse can agree on the terms of the divorce, the divorce process will be considerably easier, faster, and cheaper, since you’ll be able to avoid mediation and legal costs. As long as the judge agrees that the terms are fair to both parties, you should be granted your divorce.
If you’re unable to reach an agreement, you still have the option to work with a neutral mediator to reach a mutually acceptable settlement. However, this will require compromise from one or both parties. If you or your spouse are unwilling to budge, then mediation will be a waste of time and money.
If you are in a situation where you know you need a lawyer, but can’t afford one, it’s worthwhile to seek help from a pro-bono divorce lawyer. Often, lawyers will donate time and services to those in need, especially if you are coming from an abusive marriage. Reach out to the local Bar Association for guidance on how to find a free divorce lawyer if you can’t afford to hire an attorney on your own.
Even the friendliest divorces are complicated. For many of us, we are so desperate for the divorce to be over that we become short-sighted. For example, one friend of Divorcist had a DIY divorce that, at the time, seemed perfectly amicable. Fast forward a few years and her finances changed dramatically for the worse, yet she still finds herself paying 100% for her children’s braces and school fees. That’s why it’s so important to think through every potential scenario and contingency before signing off on your divorce agreement.
This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author and have not been evaluated by Divorcist for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.