You and your spouse have decided it’s better off for everyone to get a divorce, but if you and your spouse are getting along just fine, do you really need an attorney? Don’t attorneys just make things worse? If you do it yourself, what’s the worst that can happen?
Most couples experience serious sticker shock when meeting with a divorce attorney for the first time. Why can’t they tell me exactly how much this is going to cost me?
You may think that, given the fact that you and your spouse get along, working with a lawyer isn’t worth the cost. After all, when you’ve reviewed the online documents, all you have to do is fill in the blanks, check a couple of boxes, and you are divorced, right? While D-I-Y projects may be the current trend, there can be serious consequences in a do-it-yourself divorce.
Risks of Doing it Yourself
Attorneys are trained to look at any situation and consider the worst-case scenario and then navigate ways around that worst-case scenario by adding in protections and making sure that the documents that are filed with the Court are detailed and thorough enough to cover potential future issues. It is always best to hope for the best but plan for the worst.
If you are doing your divorce yourself, without the guidance of a lawyer, you are likely to miss some of the potential pitfalls. Many couples going through an amicable divorce believe that their co-parenting or general relationship will stay the same. However, many couples do not consider the impact that a move, a change in financial circumstances, behavioral or health issues with their child, or new significant others can impact the way they communicate with each other. When you file an agreement with the court, it becomes a court order. If your agreements were reached anticipating that things would never change, they may be overly vague and potentially unenforceable.
Attitudes and feelings towards each other can change greatly after your divorce is final. If something comes up and the Court has to get involved, it can quickly become more expensive than if the couple had hired attorneys in the first place. It is much more difficult to “undo” a bad agreement that has become an order of the Court than it is to have the documents prepared correctly the first time.
Types of Representation
Working with an attorney can look different for different people. Divorcing couples have options when it comes to getting a divorce.
One option is a “kitchen table divorce.” This describes couples that are getting along and can sit down at the kitchen table and go through all of their assets and debts and decide who should get what. If you and your spouse determine that this is the best path for you, you should each consider hiring an attorney for limited scope or “unbundled” services. With limited scope services, an attorney can help you review your documents, before you have signed and filed them with the Court, and identify any potential problems. This will enable you to make informed decisions about how best to move forward and hopefully avoid the risk of re-litigating the agreements that you worked so hard to reach in the future.
Couples can also reach a settlement by utilizing a mediator. A mediator acts as a neutral negotiator who assists the couple in reaching agreements in dividing the assets and debts and also issues related to parenting and child support. Attorneys may or not be involved in mediation, but a mediator will not give you legal advice, even if you ask for it. Oftentimes, people who wish to work with a mediator but do not want to engage lawyers in the traditional sense, either work with an attorney to prepare for mediation and to identify possible resolutions or, at a minimum, to review potential agreements that were discussed in mediation. If you sign a mediated agreement without having an attorney review the document, you will have signed a binding document that may contract you to financial obligations, parenting terms, etc. that an attorney would have otherwise advised against.
Collaborative divorce is also an option. Collaboration takes a team approach by using collaboratively trained attorneys and neutral experts who work together with a divorcing couple to resolve their case, without the need for court intervention. The collaborative approach to divorce empowers parties to make informed decisions, based on the advice of their attorneys and the analysis of the neutrals involved, to reach a thorough and well-thought out resolution to their case. The statistics show that couples who engage in this process are far less likely to ever find the need to litigate their case in the future than those who utilize any other process to get a divorce. The agreements that you reach in the collaborative process will ultimately be filed with and adopted as enforceable orders of the Court.
Finally, you have the option to divorce by engaging the court system. This process can feel overwhelming, as there are a number of deadlines and obligations that you become tied to as soon as you have filed paperwork with the court to initiate the process. An attorney will not only guide you through the process but will “sit in the driver’s seat,” meaning that it will be their job to make sure that you are doing everything that is required of you, so that you can obtain the best possible result in court. You can still reach agreements and resolve your matter, without the need to appear before a judge, in a “traditional” divorce process, however, if you ultimately cannot reach agreements, you will have the opportunity to appear before a judge, present evidence and testimony, and that judge will issue orders based on what they learn in court.
At GEM Family Law, we are mediators, collaborative attorneys, we offer unbundled services, and we are seasoned litigators. There are serious risks to doing a DIY divorce and huge potential financial ramifications. It is our philosophy at GEM Family Law that each person has the right to choose how they get divorced. We are here to help you explore your options. For more information, you can schedule a free initial consultation with any of our attorneys by calling (303) 317-3239.
Authored by: Sarah Wolter, Senior Associate