In our previous posts in this series, we discussed the reasons why you may or may not want to hire an attorney, as well as the potential procedural and deadline mistakes commonly made when conducting a DIY divorce and the importance of understanding exactly what you are signing your name on.
Continuing in our attempt to clarify this often-confusing topic, we will now cover the next three common mistakes made and how those mistakes could affect your decision about whether a DIY divorce is the right option for you.
In our experience helping people recover from mistakes made during the DIY process, here are three additional common mistakes that we see:
Too-Vague Separation Agreements
As part of every DIY divorce, the couple is required to file a separation agreement that details each part of your settlement. Templates for separation agreements are available online and seem straightforward and simple.
However, legal processes are rarely simple. The biggest challenge that most couples face is including the appropriate level of detail to this document. Earlier we discussed the importance of understanding everything you sign, and this is no exception. If you sign this document, it is legal, no matter what it says.
So what happens if you don’t adequately describe what happens if you can’t sell your house immediately and end up paying more in joint mortgage than anticipated? What happens if one or the other of you loses a job and can no longer make the agreed-upon payments on joint debt? What happens if your spouse won’t follow the agreement?
Be specific. Make sure to address not just today but the future, and ask for what you want in detail. Don’t make any assumptions or think you should wait to speak with your spouse or mention something at the hearing. Get it in writing as early as possible.
Make sure that you set forth how you are going to deal with the unexpected. For example, what will you do if one or the other of you promises to do something during the process and then doesn’t deliver? Remember, you have to be able to enforce the agreement in the future if that is necessary.
Representing Yourself in Court
Representing yourself in a divorce hearing is nothing like what you see on Law and Order. It is also much more complicated than just dressing nice and talking respectfully.
Divorce is a topic that is inherently emotional and stressful, and representing yourself in front of a judge is never going to be straightforward and easy. Even in an uncontested divorce there will often be topics that are sensitive to one or the other of you. Representing yourself professionally and to the best of your ability will always be a challenge when you’re emotionally involved.
Know that even though you are emotionally invested in the hearing’s outcome, your judge will not cut you slack because you’re not an attorney. You will be expected to understand the laws and how they pertain to you, just as any attorney would. The learning curve for representing someone in court (let alone yourself) is high, and you need to do it right the first time.
Inadequate Parenting Plans
If your divorce involves children, the DIY process immediately becomes more complicated, and you may want to reconsider hiring an attorney. If you do move forward with the DIY divorce, keep in mind that the courts paramount concern is the best interests of your child or children.
In Colorado, all divorces that involve children require both a parenting plan and a child support worksheet. Understand what these are and make sure you complete them in full detail. As with the separation agreements mentioned above, parenting plan templates are available online, however, they are vague and don’t include detail. They’re intended to apply to everyone, but each couple’s situation is different.
A word to the wise: make the form fit your needs and view the form as a guideline for all the issues that must be addressed to satisfy the Court. That doesn’t mean that you and your spouse can’t add additional items or agreements that are pertinent to your children and your situation.
As with the separation agreements, don’t just plan for settlement today. Think about the future, and provide details. What happens if one parent has to relocate? What if someone loses their job? What happens if your schedule changes and you can’t meet the agreed-upon custody schedule? What will you do for holidays? How do you define a holiday? Do birthdays count? How about vacations? And for most divorced parents””biggest of all””how will you enforce it?
Deciding whether a DIY divorce is the right path for you depends entirely on your situation and how many complications are involved. It may be an ideal path for some, but in other cases, it may be too risky. Talk to a divorce attorney ahead of time. Learn what is involved and how you can proceed in a way that best suits you and your needs.