You may have seen advertisements recently for websites offering fast, inexpensive, do-it-yourself divorces. While the concept may seem tempting, it is likely not the best way to go. When you are ending a marriage the stakes can be high, especially if you have children together, own a home, have invested in retirement accounts, or possess other high-priced assets. Far too often, these “quickie internet divorces” can backfire and leave you with an even larger, more expensive legal mess. Here are a few issues to consider before you try a DIY divorce:
Confusing Legal Language: Online divorce websites do not usually provide clear instructions on how to fill out all the legal forms. Additionally, the websites do not have an attorney available for any questions you might have. So something as simple as not filling out a form correctly can have irreversible and costly consequences. Take, for example, retirement accounts, which are among the most important assets that are divided in a divorce. If a person does not properly identify their retirement account or properly state how it should be divided (or not divided!) in a divorce, the person may end up losing an asset they never meant to give up. Division of property cannot be modified after a divorce, so once the mistake is made, there is no correcting it.
No Non-Compliance Provisions: You and your partner may agree on certain issues or compromises now, but what happens if one of you does not complete your part of the divorce agreement? For example, what happens if one person does not vacate your marital home, pay child support on time, or split certain assets as promised? Divorce documents should clearly detail each party’s obligations, a timeline, and (where appropriate) the consequences for failing to meet any obligations. If these terms are not properly spelled out, you may find that your ability to enforce the terms of the divorce are limited. Divorce websites do not always include these non-compliance provisions or explain why it is important to have them in place. This can lead to confusion and lengthy legal battles years after the divorce
Unclear or Missing Terms: Because online documents are meant to be one-size-fits-all, they may not be as detailed as they should be. Poor drafting is particularly an issue in documents that require ongoing actions by the parties involved, such as Parenting Plans. Many DIY Parenting Plans leave out basic information such as what time the children will be exchanged on a certain day or where the parties will meet for the exchange. Not specifying such terms means the parties have to negotiate the logistics every time they need to exchange the children. Likewise, not specifying the method of payment for property or debt division or child support may lead to a delay in receiving payment. It could also lead to allegations of missed payments or claims that payments were made when they never really were. Unlike a DIY form, an attorney can spot what terms need to be further developed to avoid unnecessary conflict between the parties later on.
Custody, Child Support, or Alimony Modifications: Unlike the division of assets (which cannot be modified), custody, child support, and alimony can be modified after a divorce is over. It may be necessary to bring a modification in the future if there are new facts. However, bringing a modification simply because these issues were not properly addressed in the first place is an unnecessary hassle and expense. In some cases, a person may not be able to modify custody, child support, or alimony if they do not have the facts to support a change. Making an agreement at the time of your divorce because you do not want to hire an attorney may mean you are stuck with whatever deal you reached with the other party, even if it was not fair to begin with. Even if the Court does grant a modification, making those corrections can end up being more expensive than if you had hired a family law attorney in the first place.
No Legal Advice: One of the most significant drawbacks of using an online form is that you do not receive any advice from an attorney. An attorney can advise you on your rights so that you understand what result you are likely to get in Court, and how that compares to what you are compromising in negotiations. For example, you may learn from speaking to an attorney that you have a legal interest in an asset that you were not aware of, or that you have the ability to protect an asset from a claim by your spouse. Without consulting an attorney, you do not know what you do not know, and you may be giving up significant rights by trying to navigate the process yourself.
The process of divorce is stressful and emotional. While it may be tempting to turn to online divorce services for a quick, cheap divorce, this can lead to costly mistakes and additional years of legal negotiations. Working with a family law attorney can help prevent such mistakes, save both parties their time and money, and allow everyone to move forward with their lives. If you need help with your divorce case, contact Porchlight at (678) 435-9069 or [email protected].