This is a subject I have talked about before but a recent client has brought it to my attention again and I think it bears repeating. It seems as though more and more people are trying to do their divorces on their own. Most all of the forms and instructions are online. Many people think that this is a great way to save money and decide to go at it on their own. Maybe they are thinking that everything is amicable enough and they can just work out their divorce without the need for an attorney. Some will consult with an attorney for an hour here or there or maybe talk to friends or family that have been through it, but still try to do everything on their own. The only problem is what happens when you get it wrong?
Take the case of a recent client, her husband convinced her that they didn’t need an attorney. She was going to move out of the State and he agreed to let her take their daughter with her. He prepared the necessary forms, filled out the Worksheets for child support and maintenance (alimony) and then told her to sign on the dotted line. When she suggested that maybe she get an attorney to look things over he once again scoffed, and told her what she was getting was fair. Now mind you they had a 24 year marriage – three kids and she was a stay at home mom. According to the maintenance standard she would have been imputed minimum wage based on her skill level and the fact she hadn’t worked in 20 years. He had a substantial income which would have required him to pay quite bit each month for maintenance for over ten years and also child support. He gave her a much, much lower amount for maintenance that would only a few years because according to him “the Judge won’t allow me to pay support you for that long”. He gave her the amount he would pay her and she never saw the Worksheets that indicated a much higher amount for both child support and maintenance for a longer period of time. He also awarded himself approximately 75% of the assets and 25% of the debt and gave her 75% of the debt and 25% of the assets. This was unconscionable – but she didn’t know any better. She signed the Agreement and they submitted it to the court for approval. Thankfully she had second thoughts before it was finalized and that’s where we come in. We were able to seek a court order to strike this agreement and start over again.
In this case if she hadn’t hired us she would have been cheated out of her fair share and saddled with substantial debt and no income. What he also failed to tell her was that although he wanted to keep attorneys out of it he himself had been consulting with an attorney and that is how he came up with this agreement. She had no idea how unfair this agreement was because of the way he had twisted the wording so she didn’t really understand. Thankfully we were able to help her, but so many people have no idea how much they are hurting themselves and their kids, if any, when they try to do things themselves. You may putting yourself at a financial disadvantage due to ignorance of the law.
On the other hand, because I do this for a living I was able to do mine on my own, and also because I had a very agreeable participant in my ex. He was willing to let me walk him through the process and prepare all of the necessary documents. In my case everything turned out fine because I knew what I was doing. Other than that, unless you have a short term marriage, no kids, and few if any assets, using an attorney is always in your best interest. You just never know what you might be leaving on the table.
“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together”