DIY Divorce: Short-term promises and long-term pain

This article looks at why people choose DIY divorces and why they are riskier than they appear.

America is a do-it-yourself nation. While that DIY attitude can be a good way to learn new skills and improve one's self-confidence, some situations are too serious to be left to anyone but the experts. In recent years, however, this DIY attitude has led to many people choosing to forgo the help of an attorney and to deal with their divorces themselves. However, while a DIY divorce may promise some short-term savings, the long-term risks could leave a party to a divorce coping with significant and sometimes irrevocable consequences for years to come.

Why do people choose DIY?

Many people have a distorted version of how family law works. Movies and television shows, for example, may provide for dramatic court scenes about divorce, but such scenes rarely reflect reality. The internet has also been an endless source of "information" that promises to help people get through their divorce quickly and cheaply. As the Huffington Post recently reported, there have even been ads on Craigslist promising divorces without an attorney at suspiciously cheap rates. These various factors lead many people to assume that divorce is much more straightforward than is actually the case. In other instances, the draw of getting a divorce done cheaply is so enticing that people overlook the risks entailed in a DIY divorce.

Risks of DIY divorce

The risks are significant. Popular media and internet sites should not be relied upon to give qualified legal advice. Family law is different in each state, meaning that even if a website offered information about divorce that was accurate in one state, for example, there is no guarantee that that same advice will be accurate in Oregon.

Furthermore, many people who choose a divorce without the help of a lawyer have misconceptions about how the court process works. A judge, for example, cannot give either party to a divorce legal advice. Therefore, if the other spouse does have an attorney then that attorney will usually be able to put the spouse who doesn't have an attorney at an extreme disadvantage. Even if a judge sees the spouse without an attorney hurting his or her own case, that judge is severely restricted from offering any help to that spouse.

The greatest risk of a DIY divorce is in the form of more long-term consequences. When a divorce settlement is finalized, it is usually permanent. A spouse who doesn't have legal representation is much more likely to sign a settlement without understanding all of the consequences of doing so. For example, there could be tax implications or consequences for parental rights buried deep in a settlement that may appear obscure to a layperson. Even if the terms of a settlement later feel unfair, they will likely have to be adhered to. When it comes to negotiating a fair divorce settlement, most people only get one chance.

Family law

To make sure that a divorce is done right the first time, anybody going through a divorce should contact a qualified family law attorney, such as the attorneys at Yates Family Law. Moreover, it is important when dealing with valuation issues and division of often the most important marital assets, namely the family home and retirement benefits, that divorcing spouses employ expert family law attorneys to help assure that those assets are being divided and disposed of properly