Why Do It Yourself Divorce is a Bad Idea
Several of my clients come to me only after an unsuccessful and tedious attempt to secure a divorce on their own. Most of them first tried using a website or service that claimed to have “all the forms necessary” to finalize their divorce without an attorney. Unfortunately, in the hopes of saving money, they found themselves spending more in the end. So why is the “do-it yourself divorce” option a bad idea?
For starters, you cannot know what you are giving up if you do not know what is out there. After filing for a divorce, parties have access to certain information gathering tools called “discovery”. For instance, parties have the right to ask each other questions under oath regarding bank statements, retirement accounts, side income, and investment accounts. Parties also have the right to request these documents not only from his or her spouse, but from third party entities such as employers and banks. The do-it-yourself folks typically do not use any of the tools available to them, if any at all. Unfortunately, they will usually not know what tools are best for them unless they previously consulted with a lawyer. Imagine giving up $50,000 or $100,000 in benefits from your spouse’s 401k or investment account, simply because you did not know your spouse had a marital investment account? Unfortunately, sometimes it is too late to pursue their marital interests because they already secured a divorce or settlement agreement with online forms.
Apart from missing out on the full financial picture, you could also be waiving important rights. For example, are you entitled to spousal support? For how long? How much value in the marital home would you be entitled to if you went to trial? Could you ask for the house to be sold and the proceeds divided equally? Are you paying debts that your spouse should legally be responsible for? What about a spouse that owns their own business— how much is their business worth and what would be your portion of it? These are all questions that most non-lawyers will not know the answer to.
Finally, even when there truly is nothing to contest, and no assets or debts to fight over, frequently parties simply do not have all the forms and notices required to obtain a final order of divorce. Courts will send documents back to parties, and sometimes not inform them of all of the specific errors that need to be corrected since the courts cannot provide parties with legal advice. This can turn into a game of submission and re-submission, until one of the parties eventually gets tired of waiting what seems like forever for a divorce and hires an attorney.