Dec 13, 2021
DIY and Why It Does Not Fit in the World of Divorce
Most people never expect to get divorced. Furthermore, when the time comes to get divorced, most people want to get the divorce done as quickly as possible. They also do not want to spend a lot of money to get divorced. Some of these people try to handle the divorce on their own. We call it the DIY (Do It Yourself) divorce and this article will outline why DIY divorces do not work.
Christine Lombardo-Zaun, Esq., an attorney-mediator at Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation, talks about DIY divorce and how it could lead to unnecessary legal problems and expenses.
There are many tools out there to help couples divorce on their own without legal counsel (and thus saving thousands of dollars). However, as a former divorce review officer, I have seen these “self-help guides” on various county websites, and even the most organized guides can be daunting and confusing. There are a few areas that I want to highlight that I consider major issues with parties trying to divorce on their own.
First, most couples do not realize that the law dictates that certain things must happen to get divorced. Establishing grounds for a divorce, establishing standing to sue, picking the right location to file the divorce, and many other items factor into the divorce. Simply put, it is not just about filing divorce papers and then getting the divorce decree. The language itself can be overwhelming, but there is a process with specific timelines that must be adhered to and without knowing the law, most will not know these timelines.
Over the years I presided as a divorce review officer, I would review case files and would have to kick back or deny files based on the parties not following the rules (the law). It became tricky because as a review officer, I was not permitted to provide legal advice to the parties yet, I had to deny their file. The parties would receive this denial and would not know what to do to correct it. Telling them what was wrong could possibly be construed as providing legal guidance and I wanted to steer clear of that ethical trap. The parties would then refile and yes, refile a third time because they would not get it right. This process added months to their “simple” divorce and additional fees they were not expecting.
Another other major issue is that of a marital settlement agreement. The martial settlement agreement, or the property settlement agreement is a legally binding contract that takes a snapshot of the couple’s marital estate, and it outlines how the marital property is going to be distributed. This applies to those couples who have assets and liabilities. Even if there are not many assets or liabilities, couples should really consider having an attorney draft a marital settlement agreement. However, there are those couples who do it on their own and inevitably, they forget details that end up costing them hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some couples do not realize that the settlement agreement is an enforceable tool they can use to protect themselves. There was one case where the parties drafted the agreement on their own and because of an omission of a word, the one party lost out on receiving $250,000.00 of retirement income. If this party would try to sue for their “share” of the retirement account, the courts will most likely follow the terms of the agreement as written and uphold the contract. The courts
have held that if couples purposely chose to avoid the use of attorneys (experts in this field), then the contract will stand as is.
A final area that is dangerous for couples and I consider it to be a trap is that of the quickie divorce. There are firms that advertise to couples, “Get divorced for $99”. The couple then pays the firm $99 for the divorce but then the other fees are introduced. I saw one firm that penalized
a couple and charged them $5.00 for each spelling error. I have had to help a few couples get out of this trap and by the time it was said and done, they had already lost close to $1,000.00 for the quickie divorce. Nothing had been done on their case other than the file was set up.
Are there couples that can get through a DIY divorce? Sure, anything is possible. Is it advisable? Not. At. All. This is one reason why I advocate strongly for couples to mediate their divorce. With mediation, there is a neutral third party, an attorney who knows the law, who guides the couple to a settlement agreement, making sure all necessary details are included and recorded properly, protecting both parties.
If you do not want mediation or if your soon-to-be-ex does not want to do mediation, then hire an attorney to guide you through the process. Even attorneys who have gone through divorces did not do it themselves. It is always preferred to have someone else get eyes on your process and documents. This person will have fresh eyes and can catch things you might miss. It has been said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Do not be that fool. It could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars.