It’s tempting to try to save money on your divorce by doing it yourself. After all, few of us like to spend money on things we’re probably not going to enjoy.
But skimping on your divorce is a dangerous prospect. Divorce is a complex legal process. If you don’t fully understand it, you’re bound to make mistakes – potentially costly ones.
Here are some of the most common mistakes people make in DIY divorces.
Not understanding your state’s divorce laws
Maybe you’ve watched several friends go through divorces. Maybe you’re a devoted fan of Divorce Court. Maybe you’ve even been divorced before.
None of that means you understand the complexities of your state’s divorce laws. Each state creates its own laws and regulations about divorce, and those rules can have real (and lasting) impacts on your divorce case.
For instance, timing can play a significant role in divorce proceedings. Some states have residency requirements or mandatory waiting periods before a person can file for divorce. In Arkansas, you have to live separately from your spouse for 18 months before you can get a divorce. Compare that to Georgia, where you can file for divorce at any time (as long as you’ve been a resident for 6 months), but you can’t be granted a divorce until at least 30 days after you file.
The forms required for a divorce can also be complicated. And filling them out incorrectly has consequences. Worst case scenario, you end up with terms in your divorce order you didn’t intend. Best case scenario, it delays your divorce case.
If you do the paperwork in a way that is legally invalid or incomplete, the judge will likely ask you to redo the paperwork and set another court date. Of course, you could also fill out the paperwork in a way that’s technically “correct” but isn’t in your best interest or what you meant to agree to. The judge will likely approve the paperwork as is, and those terms will become final in your divorce order.
Unfortunately, the divorce process itself can also get pretty complicated. A lot of DIYers get stuck because the necessary steps and forms aren’t always clear or well-published by the county courts. And even if they are, not every divorce will follow the same process. In fact, different judges often administer the process differently.
Some judges proactively schedule hearings for divorces that have settled or for divorces that haven’t settled and will need a full trial. Some judges don’t schedule them unless you submit additional paperwork.
One of the risks of not having an attorney is that you may experience lots of delays and inefficiencies because you don’t understand each court’s process.
Not knowing what to prioritize
Many divorces don’t get decided by a judge. The divorcing couple negotiates the terms of their divorce before they file. Or they mediate after filing. In fact, judges in most states encourage (or even require) divorcing parties to attend mediation before trying their case in court.
Those negotiations are an opportunity to have more control over your own divorce. However, if you don’t understand your options, you may not know what to prioritize in those discussions.
For instance, you may go into a mediation session unwilling to settle unless you get every single term you want. The mediation will likely be unsuccessful, and the judge will end up deciding the case.
And what’s the most likely outcome there?
Family court judges try to be as fair as possible in divorce proceedings. But the judge’s definition of fair is likely different than your definition of fair. So you won’t get everything you wanted, and the things you do get may not be what really mattered the most to you. Had you been more strategic in the mediation session, perhaps you could’ve given a little on the less important issues and traded them for the more important things.
On the flip side, people sometimes get overwhelmed in a negotiation and give in on too many things. Perhaps you feel bad about your part in the marriage’s end, so you back down on too many things and regret it later. Or you might not understand the importance of certain decisions or even know what you’re entitled to.
A divorce attorney can provide guidance on your rights in the process and help you strategize.
Anticipating thousands in alimony or child support
Many people hear the word divorce and automatically think of alimony. The truth is, alimony is becoming less favored in many states, including Georgia.
People often enter the divorce process expecting to receive a big check each month because their spouse makes more than them. And that’s very rarely the result.
While child support is more commonly awarded, it’s also often less than what people expect. Georgia has a free child support calculator that anyone can use. However, it’s a pretty complicated form, and it can be filled out incorrectly – giving you a false impression of the potential outcome.
An experienced divorce attorney can help you set realistic expectations for alimony and child support. And those numbers can help you make strategic decisions about how you negotiate for a divorce settlement.
Trying to punish your spouse through divorce proceedings
No one is going to blame you for being angry during a divorce. You probably have a lot of good reasons for your feelings.
But your divorce proceeding is not the place to act on them. When one spouse is hostile and unwilling to compromise, the other often digs in their heels in response. In most cases, focusing on punishing or “getting” your spouse leads to a longer, more expensive, more contentious divorce.
The better plan is to focus on your goals for the future. Is it most important for you to stay in the house? Do you want to make sure you have a safety net so you can get back into the workforce? Are you set on having 50/50 custody?
Figure out your goals, and put all your energy into making those happen for your future – not in punishing your spouse. An attorney can help keep you focused and provide strategies to meet your goals for the divorce.
Creating a vague parenting plan
If you and your spouse have minor children, you will be required to create a parenting plan. That plan will detail how you will raise your child. It includes things like when each of you will spend time with your child and how important decisions will be made.
The process of negotiating a parenting plan can be frustrating and even tedious. But the more specifics the better. Every place where there’s an absence of details creates an opportunity for disagreements down the line.
For example, say you agree on holiday parenting time but don’t agree on exchange times and transportation logistics. This could create a lot of headaches if you and your spouse don’t agree in the future.
This goes for couples that have an amicable relationship as well. Even if you think you’d never fight over an issue with the parenting plan, play it safe and put it in writing.
Think of the money you spend on an experienced divorce attorney as an investment in your future. The outcome of your divorce could impact you for years to come, so you want it to be the best result possible. At Porchlight, we help divorcing spouses reduce the drama and focus on the next chapter of their lives. Contact us to schedule a legal clarity session.