Divorce Advice for the Do-It-Yourselfer
Where do you turn to for divorce advice when you’re doing it yourself?
In the United Kingdom, legal professionals may be either solicitors or barristers. Solicitors provide legal advice and support to their clients. They prepare paperwork and negotiate matters for their clients. While some may represent their clients in court, for more complex matters, they usually request a barrister to appear on their client’s behalf. Thus, a barrister becomes involved in a case once hired by the solicitor when advocacy before the court is necessary.
While we do not have the same system in the United States, we can learn from the practices of others.
As many as 60% of the folks getting divorced in this country represent themselves pro se; they do not retain an attorney. But by doing so, they may be setting themselves up for failure. Divorces involve legal issues that should not be addressed lightly. Even the most amicable of divorces require the filing of a lawsuit in court. Without proper legal guidance, a divorce do-it-yourselfer can make costly and time-consuming mistakes. Like what?
The do-it-yourselfer may fail to allege in his petition the appropriate legal grounds for divorce in his state. He may be ignorant of important jurisdiction and venue requirements. He may fail to prove up the appropriate residency requirements. The do-it-yourselfer may waive important rights he has to assets and support because he does not fully understand those rights. His proposed parenting plan may delay proceedings because it is not specific enough. If he hasn’t calculated child support pursuant to his state’s statute, that also can delay a final judgment of divorce.
And if the spouses have not addressed the distribution of all their assets and liabilities, the do-it-yourselfer may become embroiled in post-judgment litigation that could have been avoided. Expensive post-judgment litigation because now he will finally go to see the lawyer he should have consulted in the first place and because fixing the mistake is always more expensive than not making it in the first place.
If you are considering handling your divorce pro se, here’s some divorce advice: Learn from the relationship between barristers and solicitors in the United Kingdom. While you may not need a lawyer to litigate your case in court, you should at least confer with one to ensure that you have addressed all of the important issues in your divorce documents. Consider hiring a solicitor-type attorney to advise you throughout your process as you handle as much as possible on your own. (At Open Palm Law, we call that relationship “unbundled services.”) Many of these attorneys will even allow you to pay them as you go, rather than requiring an expensive upfront and sometimes non-refundable retainer fee.
As you require divorce advice, you’ll have this attorney on hand to ensure that you are on the correct path. If your divorce becomes more complex than you anticipated, which often happens, that attorney can take over at any time. Even if that attorney is not a litigator, like a solicitor in the UK model, he can refer you to a trusted litigator, if one becomes necessary.
At the very least, if you are a do-it-yourselfer divorcer, spend a little extra money to have an attorney review your final divorce documents before you file them with the court and obtain that final judgment of dissolution of marriage. Even if you did a perfect job on your paperwork, your money will not be wasted. You will have the peace of mind of knowing that your divorce will be granted timely and that you are not likely to have any costly post-judgment issues.
Getting legal divorce advice isn’t the same as reading articles online; you need an attorney to help you make sound decisions that will eventually allow for peace of mind.