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The Ups and Downs of Do-It-Yourself Divorce

by Michael Heath

When a marriage is failing, thoughts of bringing it to an end begin to stir. The classic way was to retain a lawyer before suing for divorce. In the information age the first step is typically to search the internet to learn the options or to find a good lawyer. There are many who may research a do-it-yourself (DYI) approach for their uncontested divorce.

Considering Do-It-Yourself Divorce

Some common reasons why couples attempt to bring the marriage to a legal conclusion on their own:

  • To end the marriage on the cheap
  • To conserve limited financial resources
  • To avoid sharing personal information with strangers
  • To end a very brief marriage that produced no children nor assets
  • To steer clear of the stress associated with a typical dissolution

Couples who seek out a DYI divorce only because it costs less may find themselves in an expensive quandary down the road. Marriage breakups are usually complex, messy affairs. They normally require experienced professionals such as mediators, collaborative lawyers, or divorce attorneys to structure a reliable settlement. Even couples who complete the documentation on their own should have attorneys review the paperwork before submission to the court.

A husband and wife who cannot afford legal counsel may want to consult Legal Aid (federally funded legal assistance) or contact the local bar association for lawyers willing to work pro bono (for no fee). Using an attorney or trained mediator is much better than filling out the divorce forms and creating a settlement agreement without the proper know-how. First-year mediators are often looking for experience and may work for reduced or even a no-fee arrangement. Couples considering mediation should contact the state mediator association for help.

Who Should Do a DYI Divorce?

 When it comes to DYI divorce, the less complicated the better. Some suggest that the only time a DIY should be attempted is when the marriage was less than three years, no children are involved, or no request for alimony. Whatever the circumstances, the couple should know that DIY divorce is the least preferable option for ending the marriage.

People who obtain documentation from a county courthouse may find it a bit intimidating. The paperwork is often lengthy, confusing, and laborious to complete. Couples who are cost-conscious but insist on getting it right may hire a paralegal service office to assist with the documents. The charge for the service is typically a few hundred dollars, not including court fees.

Pro se Divorce

Pro se is Latin for “by itself.” Pro se divorce is when one or both spouses represent themselves in court as litigants. Although spouses have the right to self-representation, they do not have the right to be ignorant of court procedures. Judges will not coach unrepresented litigants and likely tire quickly of someone who is untrained in the rules of the court. If one spouse has legal counsel and the other does not, it is advisable that the one without an attorney retain one to level the playing field. Otherwise, the litigant representing themself is susceptible to agreeing to things that they would not be if represented by a lawyer.

Getting It Done

Any couple looking to divorce by doing the legal work themselves should do their research and proceed cautiously. Issues that are not properly addressed or neglected altogether can resurface years down the road. Saving now can often be devastating later.

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