It’s pretty universal in the age of the Internet. Most of the people who seek a divorce at consider the DIY divorce option (more properly called a pro se divorce) at least once. After all, it seems so easy and cheap. Download the forms. File the fees. What could possibly go wrong?
Of course, a great deal could go wrong, and many people who give into this impulse learn that to their detriment. Not convinced? Here are four questions to ask yourself before deciding to represent yourself pro se.
Do I really understand all the ramifications of the legal language I’ll need to use?
Sure, you can look up each of these terms online, but do you really understand all the implications of these terms? The precise use of language matters in the law. Even the phrasing of what seem to be perfectly straightforward sentences devoid of any legal jargon could open doors, or close them, should someone wish to enforce their rights later or make an issue out of the other party’s compliance with the settlement decree.
Remember, lawyers study very hard for three years before passing a grueling exam before they are qualified to do this sort of work. Are you really sure Google can replace that sort of training?
Do I understand exactly what I’d have to do to make sure monies owed to me in any settlement actually get to me?
You’ve written up a settlement, signed the paperwork and the divorce decree has been signed. According to the paperwork you’re entitled to child support, spousal support and a portion of your ex’s retirement account.
Have you set up a QDRO to make sure retirement monies roll over into your own account without triggering tax consequences? Do you know how to get the state to enforce your child support order?
Fail to take certain steps, and you could be waiting a very long time to see even a single dime of your divorce settlement, no matter what the paperwork says.
Do I want to go into this with absolutely no buffer between me and my spouse?
You’re trying to get away from your spouse. And one of the things our clients tend to appreciate is the ability to send us to talk to their spouse or their spouse’s lawyer rather than having to deal with (argue with) their exes themselves.
There’s something very comforting about having an expert in your corner who can confidently and dispassionately handle any problem that arises. It’s nice to know your ex has to talk to your lawyer instead of bothering you.
Am I prepared to spend a bundle trying to correct mistakes that may not be fixable?
People tend to want a DIY divorce because they believe it will save them money. But if, years down the line you realize you’ve made a terrible mistake, you’ll probably have to hire a lawyer anyway to fix the problem.
Here’s a nice example from another state, one which demonstrates how pro se divorce might negatively impact children down the line:
“But Cotton, the divorce lawyer in Boston, cautions that courts offer some benefits that more-streamlined divorces don’t. He says that most people who think they can part ways amicably are mistaken. Joint bank accounts, real estate, and child custody can prove to be more difficult to hash out than they seem. “One of the big problems we have in court already is that people think they can do this themselves,” he said. “By giving people an administrative option, you could be putting children at risk because people grow and evolve and change. The needs of a nine-month-old are very different from the needs of a nine-year-old and if you don’t have a contract with the courts to enforce how that child is to be raised, then you have no place to go with it.” –The Atlantic
Many try the pro se route because they’re afraid they can’t afford a lawyer. However, going back and fixing what’s been broken is often twice as expensive as hiring a lawyer in the first place, as when you represent yourself pro se you’re just as bound by whatever you put together as you would have been had you consulted a lawyer. It’s also not always possible to fix what’s been broken. It’s a good idea to figure out if you can work out a financial arrangement with a lawyer before making the decision to go pro se.
So why not do it right the first time? Contact the experienced divorce attorneys at Sadek and Cooper. The first consultation is free, and we think you’ll find our services aren’t as expensive as you might fear. Call and make an appointment today.