Your vows to be faithful in sickness and in health and until death do us part, are a distant memory. You’re next stop, divorce court. How hard could it be? Fill out some papers, drop them off at the court, talk to your spouse, agree how to divide things up, and fill out some more papers. Pretty easy.
Most divorced couples and divorce attorneys know better – divorce is not simple, straightforward or easy. You’re both stressed about the children, money, bills, where you’re going to live, what the visitation schedule will be, how much money you will get or have to pay, and what’s going to happen to your assets and Pinky, your pet poodle. All of the emotion, blame and stress comes along for the ride, making it harder to find the way out of the maze.
Should you save a few bucks by doing a Do It Yourself (“DIY”) divorce or should you hire an attorney? Let’s see where it makes sense to DIY and when you should consider hiring an attorney.
A DIY divorce may be a good option if you meet the following criteria. California doesn’t make it easy, but it can be done.
1) Your divorce is truly simple: married less than 4 years; no children; don’t own a home; both employed; neither one of you has serious health problems; you own few assets; have only a modest amount of debt; and there is no history of domestic violence. It’s hard to set forth all of the parameters of what constitutes a “simple” divorce, but you get the general idea.
2) You have the time, ability and patience to access resources through the courts and online, follow all of the required steps, and accurately complete/file/serve all of the required forms, and represent yourself in court when necessary.
3) You and your spouse are be able to talk rationally about all of the issues, listen to your respective concerns and positions, and reach a compromise that is fair to both of you.
HIRING AN EXPERIENCED DIVORCE ATTORNEY
If you try to DIY most divorces without an experienced divorce attorney it would be like building a house without tools, slow and frustrating. An experienced attorney eliminates the frustrations, handling hundreds of things that need to be done to get couples divorced in California. When you hire an attorney:
1) It helps reduce the stress of the divorce. The attorney will gather information from you, and they will take care of almost everything else, allowing you more time to take care of yourself and your family. You have enough things to worry about when you are getting divorced.
2) They help make certain you receive everything you deserve. If there are child custody and child support or spousal support issues, substantial income, debts, assets or future assets (an inheritance, etc.), then you should hire an attorney.
3) You can rest assured that your case is being properly handled and you are avoiding costly mistakes that you might regret for the rest of your life. Forgetting to address an issue or underestimating or overestimating the value of an asset, are big mistakes that can be difficult to correct.
4) The legal documents presented to the court will accurately describe your positions and wishes, and the divorce judgment will be free of errors or unclear language that may make parts of the agreement difficult or impossible to enforce.
5) They are your advocate in court, your spokesperson, they know how to present your case and all of the rules and procedures associated with divorce proceedings.
6) They know the law and how a judge is likely to apply the law to your case;
7) If you fill out the forms yourself, they often aren’t easy to complete and you must provide adequate information and documentation. If you go to court without legal counsel, there are often problems with the paperwork that will cause a delay, including delaying the date that the divorce becomes final. By hiring an attorney, you avoid paperwork or other problems that could cause delays.
HYBRID: UNBUNDLED LEGAL SERVICES
Many people cannot afford to hire an attorney during a divorce. Some people think they can handle the process on their own. Unfortunately, that can be time-consuming, confusing and can hurt your case. The legal system has special rules you must follow. Attorneys are trained to understand these rules and get the best results possible. If you handle your own case and do not understand the rules and the law, it can lead to disastrous results. There is nothing worse than feeling overwhelmed or powerless about your family, finances and assets.
There is a hybrid option: unbundled legal services. An attorney providing unbundled legal services works on and charges you for only those tasks that you agree to in advance. This way you get the help you need at a cost you can afford.
An attorney providing unbundled services can: provide legal guidance and opinions; advise and coach you on strategy and court procedures; perform legal research; prepare court documents; write letters and other legal documents; help you complete financial disclosures; and represent you in court.
If you are not sure what to do, get some good advice before you proceed. Schedule an initial consultation with an experienced divorce attorney to help you determine which is the best option for you.
Norbert U. Frost is an experienced divorce attorney and estate planning attorney, practicing law since 1983. He understands people and the legal system. He cares about the people he represents. The Law Offices of Norbert U. Frost, a full service law firm also offering unbundled legal services.