Pitfalls In Handling Your Own Divorce

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I have seen an increase in people trying to draft their own Divorce Judgment and Decree, which often leads to numerous problems and additional fees and expense to redraft the Decree or for the need to move to amend it because of ambiguities. Some terms or omissions can be impossible to correct afterwards.

If you have children, real estate, assets in excess of $20,000, pensions or issues relating to custody, parenting time, spousal maintenance or child support it is best to retain an experienced family law attorney to draft the final paperwork.

I have represented numerous clients when their paperwork has been rejected by the trial court or worse has been accepted, but has failed to properly address all issues or foreseeable issues. Family law is complicated and has extensive statutes and common law set forth in a large scope of cases that a layman will not understand or properly address. Neither the court or the clerk’s office can or will give legal advice.

Once the Decree is accepted and filed many of the terms are not modifiable at a later time. Property settlements become final. Other terms may be modifiable if there is a substantial change in circumstances, but still may be difficult and expensive to attempt to modify.

There are numerous nuances in drafting custody and parenting plans that would benefit the input of an experienced divorce attorney. These agreements are generally not easy to change or modify. Vague or incomplete parenting plans often leads to numerous disputes and issues that can cause the noncustodial parent to lose important parenting time when a dispute arises.

Determining child support under the calculator is not as easy as it seems as there are numerous collateral issues that may not be properly addressed such as imputing income for less than full-time employment, bonus income, or issues and complexities when dealing with self employment, or overtime income. There are also numerous complexities in determining what the actual percentage of parenting time is for each parent is under parenting time schedules. A lawyer can also make sure the issue of the child dependency tax exemptions are properly addressed and drafted in the decree as well as other matters such as security in life insurance is included to make sure there is adequate support in the event of a death.

Spousal maintenance terms have to be dealt with extremely carefully or unintended results can easily happen. If proper waivers are not included with specialized language a party may leave itself open for extended or continuing spousal maintenance or attempted motions to do so. A lawyer should be used in every case dealing with spousal maintenance cases.

If you own a home it is also important to have a lawyer’s assistance. It is essential to make sure the complete legal description is included or you can have expensive future title problems. An agreement to sell the home needs critical detailed information included to properly address possible unforeseen issues such as difficulties in facilitating the sale or default or possible short sale ramifications and other issues, including possession, payment requirements and cooperation terms.

Dividing retirement assets and pensions have many complex issues that can lead to serious unintended consequences if not properly addressed. Survival benefits, valuation and tax issues and other complexities needs the input and advice of an experienced attorney. Often a separate Order (QDRO) needs to be prepared with numerous electives and options that can involve tens of thousands of dollars in differences depending on the electives selected, or more, if there are errors made that generally may not be later modifiable.

Generally when a divorce starts many people are on an emotional roller coaster and often have some temporary depression issues. Many people have feelings of guilt or remorse or even anger and cannot properly evaluate what is fair and equitable or consistent with the law. They may overlook important issues or make unwise concessions that may haunt them for years as they try dig out of a deep financial hole or give up custody or parenting time they cannot later change.  They may find they are entitled to much more than they are aware of if they overlook nonmarital assets or other spousal maintenance issues. A good family law attorney will protect you from making a poor decision without careful thought and evaluation.

The family law rules and rules of civil procedure are very complex and you will be expected to follow them. If you miss deadlines you may lose or waive important rights to make submissions or argue issues.

Do not assume you can easily represent yourself in a divorce and navigate drafting a divorce decree that properly protects you. Retaining an experienced divorce attorney is a wise and prudent investment to make sure all issues are fully evaluated and addressed and your rights are protected.  I have been a lawyer for over 33 years and practice exclusively in family law, custody, divorce and mediation. I will make sure your rights are protected.