One of life’s unpleasant truths is that divorce costs money at a time when household funds are already stretched to their breaking point. Some couples try to find a way around this by forgoing professionals altogether and instead drawing up their own divorce papers prior to going before a Judge for approval.
Similar to doing your own taxes or selling your own house, sometimes this can work – especially in cases where a couple is newly married, has no kids or joint real estate yet, and has kept separate bank accounts. More often than not, however, this is not a good idea – especially if you have a complicated situation.
Here are some compelling reasons why DIY divorce often brings more trouble than benefit:
No One-Size-Fits-All Package
Often couples who try to piece together their own divorce agreement get papers from well-meaning friends or relatives who have previously been through a divorce. They then change the names and fill in the blanks to apply to their own situation.
The problem? Attorneys putting together professionally divorce agreements have taken into account the unique circumstances of the couple involved. Making a carbon copy of someone else’s final result and applying it to your own scenario will usually not make sense.
No Guarantee of Validity
Other times, couples order an inexpensive DIY divorce kit online and then plug in their own names and identifying information.
The problem? There is no guarantee that the Courts will find this type of paperwork valid. You may have just stumbled upon a website where scam artists take your money and in return, give you a generic printout.
If you try bring this type of document to the Court clerk, she might hand it right back to you, informing you that you have not addressed everything needed. You then have to leave the Court, perhaps after taking a day off from work, and start the process again later.
Many couples have come to me for Mediation after having been sent away from the Court. By this point they are often embarrassed or frustrated, which creates more tension between the parties at a time when it is already running high.
Stock forms like these also fail to address the inherent complexities resulting from divorce, such as work benefits, stock options, tax considerations, or the need for a parenting plan. They do not allow for any creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
Absence of a Big-Picture Perspective
Short-term thinking often dominates those working through a divorce. They are simply trying to navigate their way out of a difficult or dead-end relationship as quickly as possible. As a result, they often fail to consider possible future scenarios that might occur, such as eventual remarriage or a child reaching college age. Since they are not trained to understand the full scope of the law when it comes to matters such as divorce, alimony, or child support, they are not aware of the consequences of their actions. A Judge may approve their divorce agreement and make it legally binding without being aware that the couple has absolutely no understanding of the legal ramifications of what they just signed.
Through the years, many people have called to explain a problem that has come up and then asked me what they should do. After reviewing their divorce agreement, I unfortunately often have to tell them I cannot help them. Unless they are looking for relief in an area where a Court-ordered modification could legally take place, they are stuck, because they already agreed in writing to that particular arrangement. I sometimes have to explain, for example, that getting remarried does not mean they can cut child support, since one’s first family is always considered the priority in the eyes of the law.
A Workable Solution
For those who want to save as much money as possible but still be prudent in their divorce proceedings, Mediation is a viable alternative.
A Mediator takes the time to educate people about every step of the divorce process, explaining legal nuances and making wise suggestions based on what has been effective in previous cases.
If you want to keep costs down but still work with a divorce professional to ensure you are covering all your bases, it is best to include a call to a Mediator.