Pros and Cons of DIY Divorce

Everywhere you look somebody is pitching DIY this or DIY that. There are TV, magazines and countless websites devoted to doing it yourself. It probably comes as no surprise, then, that do-it-yourself divorce has grown in popularity. There are a number of reasons for this. Many people who choose this option do so to save money, but there are also a lot of people who choose this option to avoid having to deal with lawyers. For some people DIY divorce can be a good option, but there are certain things you need to be aware of.

First, the good: DIY divorce can certainly save you money if done correctly. Everyone knows that lawyers are expensive. Many states provide forms that are free or low cost. Additionally, DIY divorce allows you to control the outcome of your case – there are no lawyers or judges telling you what to do! You can proceed at your own pace and file the documents when you are ready. You also get to avoid airing your dirty laundry in a public courtroom.

That all sounds great, right? What could possibly go wrong?

There are a number of risks to DIY divorce. The most common problem that I see is doing the documents incorrectly which can lead to serious problems after the divorce. For example, if you don’t know how to divide a retirement account, you might have a very hard time “undoing” the judgment if you divided it incorrectly. If you don’t think to transfer title to the property or remove someone from a joint mortgage, that can cause problems both for the person retaining the home and for the person who no longer lives there.

Another thing that happens is that people might reach an agreement that feels fair to both of them, but they overlook areas where they could actually make the agreement better for both of them. For example, if one person pays spousal support to the other person, and then the support recipient pays the mortgage, the person paying support can deduct all of the support and the support recipient can shield much of the alimony from taxation with the mortgage interest and property tax deductions.

Another challenge with DIY divorce is simply wading through all the paperwork. It can be done, and many people do it, but I also encounter many very intelligent people who are simply overwhelmed by the documents.

Do-it-yourself divorce is not all bad, and it actually works fine for many people. If you are going to do a DIY divorce, you are strongly urged to at least have an attorney review the judgment before you file it. This is relatively inexpensive and should insure that any obvious problems are fixed. Another low cost option is called “kitchen table mediation.” In kitchen table mediation, the clients figure out most of the agreement themselves (similar to a DIY divorce), but the mediator helps improve upon the agreement and then does the paperwork for the clients (depending on which state you live in).

Think of a consultation or a kitchen table mediation kind of like an insurance policy. Yes, you have to pay the premium; but if something would have gone wrong with your DIY divorce, you will be very glad you spent a little bit of money on the consulting attorney or mediator.


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