If you have joint debt and assets, plus children, a do it yourself divorce is not something you want to do!
Because many states don’t require a proven “cause” for divorce, many people think that means they don’t need legal counsel and can do divorce themselves. After all, how hard can be?
Divorce is fraught with complicated issues. Divorce is basically unraveling and separating two lives that have been intricately intertwined.
It is the rare circumstance that a do-it-yourself divorce is feasible. Perhaps in the scenario of a one-week marriage where there is nothing at stake, i.e, no children, no property, no support or alimony, it might be so cut-and-dry that filing the documents without legal counsel would be okay.
But even in the unusual situation where there is nothing to negotiate and divvy up if there is any debt — whether credit cards or mortgage — terrible mistakes can be made.
3 Great Reasons Not To Do a Do It Yourself Divorce
Your spouse’s debt could be yours
For one, the IRS doesn’t recognize who is assuming debt and neither do other creditors. If a couple has ever filed a joint tax return, the IRS can come after either party to collect debt, regardless what agreement the divorcing couple has made. So can other creditors like credit card companies and any holder of a debt that has your name on it.
If there is a mortgage and it is agreed that one party gets a sum of money and the other the house, the person without the house can still be liable for the mortgage if the person assuming the payments doesn’t pay.
Business expertise doesn’t translate into divorce expertise
The cases I typically manage are far more complicated than the above scenarios where debt is the only issue. And yet, because my client is a CEO of a large company, that person may come to believe he or she can handle the divorce himself or herself and negotiations with the spouse have commenced.
What ends up happening is that by the time they get my office, the offer our CEO made has established the floor, not the ceiling as intended. It’s a costly mistake at the end of the day.
Complications arise during a do it yourself divorce
Alimony and property division can be very complicated legal matters.
Very few people understand that once a court takes jurisdiction to award alimony it has the jurisdiction to modify that alimony as well. Although alimony was agreed to be paid for three years, it could extend well beyond for many years. A good attorney can do things to prevent a modification of your original alimony order.
Even more complicated is property settlement. What happens if your spouse doesn’t pay the agreed $100k a year for 10 years as determined in your DIY divorce? You will have to sue. And you will also have to sue every time your spouse doesn’t pay. If your spouse is scheduled to pay monthly, you will have to sue each month. That’s a lot of court time.
A good attorney will provide security for payment. For example, I would typically provide for my client that after a certain number of defaults, the debt will be accelerated and the entire amount due. While bankruptcy provides for difficulties in collection, a solid agreement would allow for foreclosure on an asset if payments have defaulted.
Even understanding what is considered a marital asset can be tricky. For example, an IRA or pension plan accumulated in part prior to the marriage may not be a marital asset.
Things that at first blush may not seem like a big deal can become a big deal in divorce cases and the consequences of poor advice can last years. When it comes to DIY projects, a divorce is one best left to the experts.