When most people picture the arduous divorce process, it is seldom imagined without a sharp-dressed attorney in a courtroom. What many people do not consider is that they have ways to get divorced without an attorney, including doing it on your own. A do-it-yourself divorce can be a cost-effective method for some, for example, if you are able to avoid fighting over major issues and come to agreements with your spouse in advance.
A do-it-yourself divorce is not appropriate for every circumstance, as it does have risks. It is only recommended when your divorce is relatively amicable with few complicated financial issues. You and your spouse should agree on children and custody issues. Without a doubt, no abuse, bullying, or mental illness should be involved if you plan to make a do-it-yourself divorce work.
Interested in what it takes to stay out of court or even a lawyer’s office altogether? Here are three ways you can make a do-it-yourself divorce work for you:
1) Learn the local rules for divorce in your area.
Each state has its own set of rules and guidelines, some of which can even be dependent on the particular county where you live. Many individuals turn to online sites that tout legal advice and suggestions, including the popular Legal Zoom and Nolo. Unfortunately, these avenues often cannot and do not account for specific state rules involved in a divorce.
You need to check specifically with your state laws and other country resources to determine what is required and when. These resources can help you decide if you and your spouse need to file for separation, what specific paperwork needs to be filed, and when and where to file it. Contacting the courthouse clerk may put you on the path to finding the right resources for your situation. General questions can often be answered by the resources they have available or through a family court website.
Educating yourself on the proper rules and finding the right resources in the beginning can prevent you from being ensnared in red tape. Without a clear direction in mind for where you are headed, you could end up filing the wrong paperwork at the wrong time, effectively lengthening the time it takes for your divorce to be finalized.
2) Understand the intricacies of dividing assets.
Misconceptions regarding property division in the dissolution of a marriage tend to lead people astray. You may not want to trust conventional wisdom or even the advice of a friend. Splitting up your marital assets can be tricky, as not all states divide property straight down the middle between two spouses.
If you are unsure of the laws in your county or state, you could be getting less than what you are entitled to receive. In certain situations, one spouse may need more finances than the other, rendering them eligible for a greater share in the divorce settlement. A division of 60/40 or an even greater spread could be necessary depending on your unique circumstances.
Dividing property and marital assets is a complicated subject to tackle. Divorces that involve children and custody agreements, alimony, or more complicated financial situations, such as owning many investments or divvying up large retirement savings accounts, may be better left to an attorney. When things become messy and complicated with finances and children, you could be putting your financial future at risk by working through the situation imperfectly with a do-it-yourself divorce.
When you pursue a DIY divorce, you should know that splitting your assets evenly might not be the right move for you. You will need to consider the bigger picture: what do you need not just in the coming months but ten years from now? Your financial future can be made more secure by receiving all that you are entitled to during the divorce settlement, helping you to avoid regrets later on down the road.
3) Consider hiring other professionals to help you work through the process.
Healthy and open communication with your soon to be ex is a necessary component to a successful do-it-yourself divorce. When you cannot speak amicably with one another, the end result might be a less than ideal settlement for you. In the midst of the frustrating situation, you may agree to a settlement that is less than you deserve simply because you want to move on with the rest of your life.
Consider bringing in professionals (other than an attorney) to assist you with this part of the process. You can hire a mediator to help both of you with negotiating and discussing your settlement in a productive and healthier manner. A mediator is often an attorney, a retired judge, or some other trained professional. This person may also be able to help you develop a clearer settlement and give you an idea of what you could be entitled to receive. You are less likely to be bullied into signing an agreement you are unsatisfied with when you have a more neutral environment for productive conversations.
You may also want to consider hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA). These professionals can help you understand the financial intricacies of dividing your assets. They are trained professionals who work with you to ensure that you understand the long-term implications of a particular settlement in terms of your financial future and security.
Communicating privately with a spouse in an attempt to divide your property and work through your assets can lead you to agree to an unfavorable settlement. If you cannot communicate with one another productively, you will be putting your financial future at risk. In these situations, you should consider bringing in professionals to make your do-it-yourself divorce easier, less stressful, and more successful. Other professionals can help facilitate those conversations for less cost than an attorney and with a higher degree of specialty regarding negotiations and mediation.
When Do-It-Yourself Doesn’t Work
What can you do if you need to divorce on a dime but you are faced with more complicated issues that do not lend themselves well to a completely do-it-yourself divorce? When hiring a handful of additional professionals does not seem to be enough, you can also consider hiring an attorney for “unbundled” legal services.
Unbundled legal services allow you to purchase the time, expertise, and advice of an attorney without paying them to manage your entire divorce. If you feel comfortable enough filing and drafting your own paperwork, you have the freedom to do so without handing over a check to your attorney. When all you need is some advice to deal with trickier situations, including alimony, child support, or custody agreements, you may want to seek an attorney who offers this service. By only paying for what you need, you will still be saving a small fortune over a divorce that is handled entirely by an attorney.
Remember that even in the midst of a do-it-yourself divorce, you can still have professionals join your team for assistance. You can find those who are highly trained in the areas where you need assistance and often for less cost than an attorney. Work hard to educate yourself about state laws and regulations for your area so that you can manage your divorce as much as possible on your own. It is easily the most cost-effective way to handle your imminent divorce, but you must be prepared for the next steps to secure your financial future.
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Shawn Leamon, MBA and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, is the host of the Divorce and Your Money Show, the #1 show on iTunes that discusses personal finance issues in divorce. He is also author of Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide, available on Amazon. Learn more at www.divorceandyourmoney.com.
Disclaimer: Divorce and Your Money and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. In considering this material, you should discuss your individual circumstances with professionals in those areas before making any decisions.