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Pitfalls of Do-it-yourself – Divorce

by Rob L. Wiley

A do-it-yourself divorce isn’t as bad an idea as do-it-yourself brain surgery, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.  Courtrooms and court documents represent a strange world to most lay people.  The savings realized from doing your own divorce often aren’t worth the costs in aggravation and later legal expenses incurred in fixing things that weren’t done properly in the first place.

We’d point to at least the following concerns about a do-it-yourself divorce:

  • Problems with the original petition and service. There are lots of forms floating around out there – in law libraries, at office supply stores, and, of course, on line.  Generally, they work okay, as long as no complications arise and the spouses live up to the promises they made about cooperation. All that goes out the window if one spouse decides to throw a monkey wrench into the works, such as by refusing to accept service of the basic pleadings needed to get the process started.
  • Drafting and finalizing a decree. Again, the do-it-yourself concept can work if everyone cooperates and things remain simple.  But what happens when a tricky property question arises? Do you know what provision should go into the decree to divide up jointly owned real estate? What about the required deeds and conveyances?  Suppose there’s a special needs child involved requiring long term care and support?  The on-line forms seldom provide the tools needed to handle those and other problems. And, even if they did, the parties may not have the knowledge and skill to properly use them. Also, the judge may find lots of problems with the draft decree because it doesn’t address all the concerns he or she thinks it should.
  • Most judges in the courts in which we practice require that the parties mediate their case if they can’t reach an agreement on their own. What happens when the mediator wants to know your position on a thorny legal issue, like whether a particular asset is separate or community property?  Ethically, the mediator can’t give either party legal advice. Can you answer that question without the assistance of counsel?  Should you?
  • Special situations like military retirement benefits and other pensions. Divorce decrees often must include specific provisions to deal with these assets and, again, on-line forms often don’t fill the bill.
  • Family Code interpretations. The Texas Family Code covers hundreds of pages and thousands of court cases interpret it. If a judge asks about the impact of a particular statutory provision or appellate decision on your case, what’s the response?

We recognize that lay people can and do handle uncontested divorces that involve little or no property and no children.  But in any case that goes beyond that simple formula, having trained, experienced counsel in your corner can save you a lot of trouble and a lot of money.  If we can help, give us a call.



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