I previously wrote about the dangers of do-it-yourself divorce. This article is a little different in which I am writing about why people getting divorced should consider alternatives to DIY and the advantages to the alternatives.
Certainly there are some people that do very well with do-it-yourself divorce. In particular, people with short term marriages, no assets, no debts, and no children can manage a divorce themselves. In this situation, if both parties agree that they should get divorced, pay nothing to each other, that all property and debts have been divided and they never want to have anything to do with each other, they they should be able to do the divorce paperwork themselves. Also, people who can't afford attorneys may have no choice about the matter. They may not qualify for legal services representation and may be forced to figure out how to get divorced without lawyers. However, even people who ultimately do their divorces themselves have options and should take advantage of services that lawyers offer.
Many family law attorneys offer free initial consultations. In these consultations, lawyers may discuss pitfalls in proceeding without a lawyer and may also give guidance.
Massachusetts, and other states, now allow attorneys to provide limited representation. This means that people getting divorced can pay a lawyer to do a limited task. Just paying a lawyer to review an agreement may save a party years of overpayments or underpayments. This is a compromise between paying a lawyer to handle everything and not consulting a lawyer at all.
The more contentious the divorce, the greater the need for hiring a lawyer. Abraham Lincoln was correct when he uttered his famous quote. People negotiate differently when a third party does the negotiation. A lawyer should negotiate out of logic and not out of emotion. All too frequently, people who handle their own negotiations focus primarily or even exclusively on the emotions. It is not unusual for people to try to negotiate to get revenge on their spouse. Lawyers should avoid seeking revenge. Instead, lawyers should focus on the rights and obligations as established by the law. Merely having a third party negotiate can simplify and shorten the negotiations. Some people abandon their emotional need for revenge when they are not negotiating directly with their spouse.
Lawyers guide clients through the family court system. Many people waste time and resources because they don't understand the proper procedures and concepts. It is not unusual for Judges to continue court hearings because do-it-yourself litigants are not prepared for the hearings. I have had many cases in which I have explained to opposing pro-se litigants the procedure or law and the case settled immediately.
Family lawyers can refer people to other professionals who can assist in the divorce process. Appraisers, therapists, mediators, insurance agents, financial advisors, accountants may all be necessary to move the parties through the divorce process. Additional documents may be needed as part of the divorce process. Documents such as wills, powers of attorney, deeds, documents to transfer assets may all be needed. It is not enough to require insurance coverage. The parties need to talk to an insurance agent to implement the requirements.
Do-it-yourself divorce may appear to be a good choice for many people. However, before they finalize a divorce, they should consult a family law attorney.