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Is It Worth It? The Hidden Costs of DIY Divorce

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You or your spouse has made the difficult decision to get divorced. It’s not an easy decision, and everyone arrives at the conclusion for different reasons. But nearly everyone faces the same confusion once they realize they are getting divorced: what to do next?

Do you hire an attorney? What can you expect from having an attorney represent you? What will it cost?

Colorado allows DIY (do it yourself) divorces””legally referred to as pro se proceedings””where parties can represent themselves. Is that the right course?

The answer to that question is different in each case. Some people want””and need””an attorney to navigate the complex divorce process, particularly if they have financial assets, and especially if they have children. Some people prefer to handle everything on their own. Your choice depends entirely on your unique situation. What is in your best interests at this time and in the future?

In these challenging economic times and with the multitude of resources on the Internet, a divorce attorney can seem too expensive to justify. Why pay money when you can handle the divorce on your own and pay only the filing fees?

The reality is that DIY divorces, while permissible in Colorado, are often more financially risky in the long run than the upfront costs of a lawyer.

To be sure, a DIY divorce may be an acceptable alternative in some cases””if your divorce is uncontested, you have few assets, and if there are no children involved. But regardless of your situation, understanding the divorce process, the steps involved, and the potential pitfalls that may arise will help you decide whether an attorney is the right choice for you.

The divorce process is a maze of paperwork and procedures. Each legal document you file affects your legal rights and must be completed properly. Each jurisdiction in Colorado sets its own procedures, so check with the court in your county to understand the process, obtain the proper forms, and get specific filing requirements.

DIY divorces essentially consist of filing numerous documents with the proper court. The first document filed in any divorce case is either a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Petition for Legal Separation, either with or without children. What comes next will depend more on your case specifics. Once you file, there are specific time frames in which you have to complete a series of additional tasks, including serving the initial pleadings on your spouse and filing a proper return of service with the Court; participating in a parenting class approved by the court, if you have children; and completing financial disclosures.

If you and your spouse have children and are able to resolve matters and have come to agreements, you will also be required to put those agreements into written forms, commonly called a Separation Agreement and Parenting Plan. Those documents will then need to be approved by the Court.

Because the only expenses involved in a DIY divorce””at first glance””are the filing fees, it may seem an ideal solution. However, if you add a house, other assets, or children to the mix, the process then involves maintenance and support negotiations, child custody and parenting plans, parental rights decisions, and financial decisions, including 401K and investment distribution. Resolving these matters fairly and properly can become difficult when emotions are high.

If you cannot resolve all matters with your spouse, you might have to go to court and have a hearing in front of a judge so the judge can enter an Order resolving your dispute. Therefore, you may end up representing yourself in court, which requires additional knowledge and skills. We’ll cover representing yourself in court and what you need to know later in this blog series. However, pro se parties are held to the same standards as attorneys, so you will need to come prepared with an understanding of the law and the Court’s procedure.

It’s important to know that the divorce process is rife with forms, deadlines, and confusing legal processes, and terms. It’s not an overstatement to say mistakes in completing the forms and managing the deadlines can result in pricey court proceedings to try to “fix” the mistakes. It is common for couples to spend more money trying to fix the mistakes that were made in their DIY divorce than they would have spent had they each hired an attorney at the beginning.

Today, there are many options for divorcing couples who need a lawyer. Many attorneys offer a la carte services, pre-divorce case evaluations, or have service agreements that enable them to provide ongoing counsel and guidance to separating couples.

Whether you “go it alone” or seek support and guidance from legal counsel, a divorce is stressful. Fully understanding your rights, what to expect in the process, and how to make decisions that are best for your particular circumstances will reduce your stress and help you move forward with confidence.

In the next few posts, we will address the most common mistakes made during a DIY divorce to help you understand the process and whether DIY is the right way for you.