Do-it-Yourself divorce has never been more accessible than it is now. Thanks to the internet, it’s possible to download all the necessary forms, follow step-by-step guides, and end your marriage with little to no fuss. But just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should.
What Is Pro Se Divorce?
The technical name for a person who represents themselves in divorce or other legal matter is “pro se.” Like many legal terms, this one comes from a Latin phrase that means “for oneself.”
There are many reasons to take this approach. For simplicity’s sake, to save money, and more. Still, there’s a lot to consider before making this decision. You need to determine if a DIY approach represents your best option. It’s also important to look at potential risks involved in pro se divorce. Bottom line, you need to consider whether or not it’s the right choice for you and your situation.
Read More: Is it Too Early to Call a Divorce Lawyer?
Is DIY Divorce the Best Choice?
Most people aren’t experienced divorce lawyers. Shocking, right? If you are, and you know the ins and outs of the process, the decision to represent yourself may be easy. But for those who haven’t gone to law school and passed the bar, the choice is less clear.
That doesn’t mean you can’t take a DIY approach to divorce. There are situations where pro se divorce may fit. This usually involves shorter marriages with no children and little or no shared property to divide. Basically, the fewer complications, the easier it usually is to take this path.
In simple cases, the process can go relatively smooth. You download, fill out, and submit the forms, pay the fees, sign the appropriate documents, and get on with your life.
Even in more complicated marriages, you can go the DIY route. It’s still possible to divide assets, determine spousal support, and even agree on custody arrangements without an attorney. That said, the more there is to worry about, or if there’s conflict between spouses, the more can go wrong.
Before you make the choice to represent yourself, you need to truly think about whether it’s the best idea. It’s all too easy to make mistakes, and mistakes can prove costly and difficult to fix down the road.
When DIY Divorce Isn’t the Best Option
As stated above, pro se divorce works best in simple situations. But when it comes to ending a marriage, things can get twisted in short order. It becomes a juggling act, and the more balls you have in the air, the greater the chances of dropping one. That’s when problems may arise.
Marriage is the process of combining two lives, and the longer it lasts, the more tangled they become. Since divorce is the process of untangling two lives, it’s easy to see why a long marriage may slow down and complicate the process.
There’s a lot to consider in longer marriages. Depending on the length, you may be entitled to part of your spouse’s retirement benefits. When you own cars, a home, or other valuable assets, figuring out who gets what takes time. So does splitting up debts or figuring out what to do about home loans or shared credit card balances.
Depending on the circumstances, spousal support may come into play. When you have kids, there’s custody, visitation, and child support to consider. Where do the children live, who pays for college? Those are just two of many questions that need answers.
If your spouse has a divorce lawyer, you may also want to reconsider the DIY approach. Going up against an experienced professional puts you at a significant disadvantage.
These are just a few things to take into account when deciding whether or not to represent yourself in divorce. Divorce impacts your entire life moving forward, it’s vital to do things right.
Risks of DIY Divorce
While DIY divorce comes with certain potential benefits–namely cost and time–it also comes with certain potential risks.
When there’s tension—and let’s be honest, divorce is often a tense situation—it doesn’t take much to create conflict. Sometimes communicating through a third party, like a lawyer, helps keep this to a minimum.
Divorce is tricky and legal inexperience causes problems. If you don’t know what to look for, you may agree to an unfavorable custody split. It’s possible to leave valuable assets on the table, settle on an unfair division of property, or even wind up burdened with additional debt you didn’t expect. It’s hard to know what to look for if you’ve never been through this before. Even paperwork can cost you time and money if a judge throws out your agreement due to improperly filled out forms.
Read More: Recourse for Mistakes on a Divorce Decree
Is DIY Divorce the Best Choice?
Ultimately, this is a question you have to answer for yourself. DIY divorce or representing yourself is a risk-reward scenario. You have to weigh the pros and cons and decide what’s best for you and what’s right for your case.
A pro se approach may seem like a great idea, and depending on the circumstances, it may be a good match. It may help streamline the process and cut down expenses. But it may also cause more trouble than you anticipate.
Whatever your choice, it’s important to do your homework. Realistically assess your situation and make the right call. It may still be in your best interest to consult a divorce lawyer. Someone who has been through this will be able to look at your case and tell you whether or not it’s a fit.
If you do go DIY, you may also want to have an attorney look over your paperwork before you finalize things. In either case, a one-time consultation is cheaper than other options and may still save you in the long run.
If a case is simple enough to be a good fit for the DIY approach, odds are, it will also be simple enough that even with hiring an attorney, you may see similar savings. In this situation, you also have the added reassurance of having a professional in your corner.
Read More: Should I Hire a Divorce Lawyer?