“DIY” or Do It Yourself Divorce is a great way to punish yourself.
By Kristin R. H. Kirkner, BCS
A portion of my practice is helping people who have done a “DIY divorce” or who have tried to file pro se and get in over their heads. It is much easier (and cheaper!) to do things right the first time than it is to fix it later. I have never heard a truer statement than from Henny Youngman, who said, “You know why divorces are so expensive? Because they’re worth it.” This week, I am going to share some of the reasons why hiring a divorce lawyer is essential to the outcome of your case:
1. You don’t know what you are doing in court. You don’t know how to address the judge, what the procedure is, or when to object. You don’t know what evidence can be considered or what will be excluded. You don’t know the case that was decided last month that could change the course of your case. You wouldn’t dream of doing your own root canal, you would hire a dentist. Same idea.
2. As a follow up to #1, you don’t know how to file a motion or, let’s be honest, what the motion should say. You don’t know when it is due or which documents need to go to the court and which are exchanged only between the parties without sending copies to the court. This is (hopefully) your first and last time in divorce court, but this is what my staff and I do all day, every day. The documents required by the court are daunting and numerous. Don’t have your case compromised because you failed to properly plead for something or because you didn’t file a motion correctly.
3. Do you know what property and assets you are entitled to in a divorce? Do you know what would change your entitlement? Do you know the difference between non-marital property and marital property? What happens if you have commingled the property? What if one party wasted assets or incurred debt prior to filing? The division of property can be a very fact specific and nuanced area that requires a wealth of knowledge and experience. Trust me, you are not up to the task unless you went to law school, passed the Florida Bar and actually practice in the area of marital and family law, which I am guessing is not the case.
4. What do people usually do for parenting time? What options work (or don’t) for rotating parenting time? Can’t we just agree that parenting time will be “as agreed by the parties”? I have seen hundreds of families and have seen what does (and does not work) in the long run. Also, if the two of you could always agree on things, chances are good you wouldn’t be getting a divorce. Add new relationships, new jobs and children getting older to the mix (all of which are not “unanticipated” and thus not a basis for a change) and you have the makings of a messy post judgment case. Getting a good parenting plan from the start is difficult and sometimes painful, but it is worth the effort and having an experienced attorney to guide you through the process is worth every penny.
5. You could end up paying attorney’s fees anyway. Yes, you heard me right. The court could order you to pay your spouse’s attorney, even if you don’t have your own attorney. I was recently awarded fees in a case where the other side was trying to represent himself. The fees were awarded because he was so difficult and unfamiliar with the court process that he forced my client to incur unnecessary fees as a result of his shortcomings. I am sure that in hindsight, he would have been better served taking that money and paying someone to represent him than to pay me to represent his ex-wife!
The reality is that a sizeable portion of my practice is fixing mistakes made by people who represented themselves or by lawyers who weren’t experienced in family law. Although this is profitable for me, I’d rather have you avoid the headache and heartache that can come from a divorce that wasn’t done correctly and do it correctly for you from the beginning. The bottom line is, if you are thinking about doing your own divorce, or representing yourself, or even “getting it started and seeing how it goes”, please just don’t. If you are already there, give me a call or fill out the form below and let’s fix it together before it is too late.