Common Mistakes in DIY Divorces: Part II

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.

Common Mistakes in DIY Divorces: Part I

Most states permit DIY divorces, termed pro se proceedings. The internet is filled with DIY divorce kits, companies selling forms and drafting assistance, and handbooks for those who want to execute their divorce without hiring a lawyer.

But is it wise? To answer in typical lawyer fashion: It depends. If you have no kids, few financial or physical assets, and the separation is mutually agreed to, a pro se case may be just fine to consider.

But when you have children involved, financial assets or debts (i.e., 401Ks, IRAs, property, trusts, joint credit card debt), or there are relationship challenges””such as substance abuse or mental health problems””divorcing DIY-style might increase your risks and costs over the long term.

Here are a few common mistakes:

Procedural Mistakes

With all the paperwork and deadlines, it isn’t uncommon for people to make small mistakes in a pro se divorce proceeding that have big repercussions”¦such as forever giving up a right for maintenance or alimony, or””in worst-case scenarios””facing significant challenges to parental rights and custody.

Divorce proceedings””whether you opt to hire legal counsel or do it yourself””require that each step of the process be completed using specific paperwork, in a specific order, filed on precise dates, and with appropriate attention to detail. The paperwork you file for your divorce is not automatically checked for accuracy and fairness. Therefore, it is critical that you fill it out with no mistakes and in a manner that protects your rights. One mistake could cause you to give up invaluable financial rights and could severely limit your right to see your children and be involved in making decisions for them.

Each jurisdiction in Colorado has different procedures that must be followed. The very first step you should take when contemplating a DIY divorce is to know exactly which paperwork your jurisdiction requires. Once you know which forms are needed, read the instructions. All of them. Legal paperwork is confusing, so make sure you understand what information goes in which form, what all the requests mean, when the forms need to be turned in, and to whom.

While there are lots of companies on the internet and in town who will sell you forms and provide assistance filling out those forms for a fee, all the forms that you will need are available free through the state’s judicial website: Also, many Colorado jurisdictions offer self-help centers, divorce clinics, or other resources for pro se litigants. Before you spend money on forms or pay someone to help you fill out those forms, contact your county’s court clerk to find out about pro se resources available to you.

Missed Deadlines or Timeline Confusion

Because there are so many different steps to filing forms, attending meetings or hearings, serving your spouse, and representing yourself at your hearing, it can be very confusing knowing exactly what needs to be done and the deadline for doing it. Knowing and understanding all the specific deadlines and requirements is a meticulous process. Add on top of that the stress and emotions involved in the divorce itself, and sometimes things don’t get done as they should. Knowing that you have to turn in this form 40 days after the first form and then call someone about attending a meeting before turning in yet another set of forms”¦it really is a painstaking process.

And while you’re waiting the mandatory time between each step and making sure each “i” is dotted and each “t” crossed, your normal day-to-day life goes on. You still have to show up to work on time each day. Grocery shopping and laundry wait for no one.

But one missed deadline could waive important rights, cause your case to be dismissed, or worse, maybe even invalidate your entire divorce. Even though your life must go on, turning your paperwork in on the right date, serving the papers to your spouse during the right timeframe, and completing each step of the process on time and complete is vital to successfully completing the divorce. Failure can have significant consequences to you, your children and your short- and long-term finances.

Not Knowing What You’re Signing

Unless you have a law degree, understanding legalese can be frustrating. A lot of the terms do not make sense. Because a DIY divorce involves such a large quantity of paperwork, reading each form thoroughly and having a clear understanding of it is essential. Adding your signature to a form that is unclear or that you don’t entirely understand can have severe consequences, particularly if you are dealing with papers addressing co-parenting, parenting time, spousal and child support, custody agreements, and division of assets.


If you are going to DIY, do your homework to decide if it’s the right choice for you. And if you have children or financial assets to protect, talk to a lawyer first””at the very least, they can help you explore all options.

Understand that while all of your district’s forms are available online, the court cannot provide legal advice. If you decide to seek legal advice, there are several options available to you. Many divorce law firms provide ala carte services, pre-divorce case evaluations, or have service agreements that enable them to provide ongoing counsel and guidance to separating couples, if you prefer not to hire an attorney to represent you in court. Some businesses also offer limited legal support as an added benefit to their employees.

Do yourself a big favor ”“ talk to an experienced divorce lawyer first. This is a must-do step.

In the next post of this Divorce Matters blog series, we will address the next three most common mistakes made during a DIY divorce:

  • Separation agreement challenges and issues that arise as a result
  • Confusion about all the motions, particularly as they pertain to custody or property challenges
  • Inadequate parenting plans or failure to consider future challenges