Last updated on October 24th, 2022 at 03:21 pm
If you decide to get divorced without an lawyer, you may be able to save some money initially. However, you may also end up paying more–much more–than if you had hired an attorney. Below are six important questions that will help you determine whether you need a divorce lawyer to handle your divorce, or if you can go it alone.
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Can You Get a Divorce Without a Lawyer?
If you’re getting a divorce, one of your concerns is probably what it will cost. You know navigating the divorce process is not easy to do on your own, but you’re not sure that you need a divorce lawyer.
You might be tempted to try to handle it yourself. But, no doubt you’ve heard horror stories about nasty court battles and divorces that seem to take forever to resolve. So let’s take a look at what you’re likely getting into if you decide on a “DIY” divorce.
Divorce Without a Lawyer: The Reality
We all want to save money, and skipping the divorce attorney might seems like a good idea on the face of it. However, almost none of us have a realistic idea of how the family court system works.
You can be intelligent, educated, and have all the common sense in the world, but if you aren’t familiar with the processes, rules, forms, and terminology used in the court system, you’re already in trouble.
Even if your divorce is amicable, there are a myriad of issues that need to be resolved. And, then, all of these need to be documented properly in terms and on forms that are acceptable to the court.
And, this assumes you haven’t forgotten anything or made a mistake in a calculation. That’s something you don’t want to have to deal with years down the road.
So, can you get a divorce without a lawyer? Ask yourself these questions before you decide.
1. Do you have children?
If you have children who are still minors, things can get complicated quickly. You’re going to need to agree on a custody agreement and make a parenting plan and schedule. How will major decisions be made if there’s a disagreement–think medical treatment, schooling, how to spend holidays and the children’s birthdays, etc. Where will the children live primarily? Will they split their time 50/50? And, what about child support? There’s a LOT to consider.
For your peace of mind, to avoid future misunderstandings and conflict, and most importantly for your children’s well-being, the guidance of an experienced divorce attorney is crucial.
2. Do you own your home or other property?
If you own a home, have you and your spouse agreed who will live there? Or, will you be selling it? If one spouse will be staying in the home, and the other spouse’s name is still on the mortgage, that can be a big problem.
For example, if mortgage payments or property taxes are paid late, this will impact both spouses’ credit reports. And, when both spouses remain on a mortgage, it’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, to obtain a new home mortgage for the other spouse, since on paper, they would appear to be overextended.
If you own rental properties too, you multiply these issues. So, if you own real estate, getting a divorce without a lawyer is probably not in your best interest.
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3. Will either spouse need or want to receive alimony payments?
If either you or your spouse expect to receive, or are asking for, alimony (spousal support) payments, there will be many things for a judge to consider.
Is support appropriate, how much should be paid, and how long will the payments continue? If you aren’t familiar with the finer points of your state’s divorce laws, this is not something you should try to navigate without the benefit of sound legal advice.
4. Do you or your spouse have a pension, 401K, or other retirement accounts?
Since retirement is something we all have to think about sooner or later, it’s imperative that you not make any mistakes when it comes to the matter of your retirement accounts.
How will they be divided in a way that’s fair to both parties? How can you avoid any tax problems that might come with dividing your retirement assets?
If you forgo hiring an attorney in favor of representing yourself, you’re taking a big risk that could haunt you all the way into retirement.
5. How complicated are your finances?
If you don’t own real estate, have no debt, don’t have retirement accounts, own no assets, and aren’t self-employed, sorting out the financial part of your divorce might be fairly simple. But, there are very few of us who fall into this category.
If any of these things do apply, you’ll want to make sure you navigate the financial aspect of your divorce with the guidance of a good divorce lawyer.
6. Do you have the time, knowledge, and energy to navigate the court system on your own?
Divorce is a process, and it can be a long one.
There are documents to gather, legal forms to complete, and then you must file everything with the court–and you must do it correctly.
Yes, you can get most anything online, including legal documents. You may find websites that allow you to pay a fee for divorce documents, but be aware that you get what you pay for. In other words, these sites are not tailored to your specific circumstances. To save a few dollars upfront, you may be losing much more in the long run.
And, we can’t forget the court dates, which can be intimidating and stressful, especially at such an emotionally trying time in your life.
If there are points of disagreement about custody, finances, or anything else, you will be in court not just once, but several times.
It can take much of the burden off of your shoulders knowing that you have an expert in your corner to guide you through the ins and outs of the court system.
Can You Get a Divorce Without a Lawyer? Should You?
No one gets married with the expectation of getting a divorce. Aside from the considerable emotional challenges, the legal process of divorce is a time-consuming, draining experience that can test the best of us.
Only rarely, in very specific circumstances, is DIY divorce the best choice. Forgoing legal counsel to save some money now may wind up costing you far more down the line, and for many, is a decision they come to regret.