DIY Divorce: 5 Common Mistakes

hammer and nailsDIY divorce has become increasingly popular as a way for couples to cheaply divorce. With online guides and sites that will help you generate forms, it might seem like DIY divorce will allow you to cut out the middleman (the attorney) and keep more of your money in your pocket.

Here’s the problem: divorce is messy and complicated. While doing your homework might allow you to understand much of the details behind divorce, the process is fraught with nuances. Here are some of the most common DIY divorce mistakes we see.

Mistake #1: Thinking what you read online is all you need to know.

There’s a lot of good information out there on divorces that you can read online. Here’s the problem though: you don’t know what you don’t know. While you can educate yourself to a point, you won’t have the time or ability to learn as much as a seasoned attorney, which means you won’t be able to avoid pitfalls.

Mistake #2: Assuming you can modify a bad divorce order later.

Often times, unless there is a “substantial and continuing change in circumstances” that warrants changing the terms of the divorce (job loss, substantial change in income, etc.), the court will not grant your request to modify your divorce order. There are also certain aspects of the divorce – namely property division – that cannot be changed by the court unless both parties agree, which means you could be stuck unless you can convince the other party to give their approval.

Mistake #3: Only focusing on the short-term results.

Because of the emotion and stress involved in divorce, it can be hard to see beyond your current circumstances. In the interest of getting the divorce settled quickly and easily, it’s easy to focus more on short-term gains than long-term consequences. We’ve seen countless people who come to us because the divorce terms sounded good when they were agreed upon, but are wreaking havoc on their lives months and years down the line.

Mistake #4: Not considering non-obvious implications.

Divorce affects many aspects of your life that you may not realize at the time of completing your DIY divorce. Take your taxes for example. The IRS is not a force you want to reckon with; failing to fully understand the implications of alimony and division of marital assets on your taxes can put you in hot water come tax time.

Mistake #5: Assuming a fill-in-the-blank separation agreement will meet your needs.

It’s impossible to create a fill-in-the-blank form that would anticipate every couple’s unique challenges and situation. Even if you are a young couple, married for a short amount of time, with few assets and no kids, there may be unique aspects of your divorce not covered by a boilerplate separation agreement.

Mistake #6: Signing documents before you fully understand what they mean.

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but we see it happen time and time again. Because the divorce is relatively amicable, one party assumes that they don’t need to read the documents closely because, “they’re probably fine.” As you might guess, down the line the same party realizes that the custody agreement or division of assets is different than what they’d thought they’d agreed to.

Mistake #7: Thinking getting a lawyer is an all-or-nothing decision.

Most people don’t realize that you don’t have to hire a lawyer to do every part of your divorce. At Kaplan, we offer pay-as-you-go arrangements where clients can receive advice or have us complete certain parts of their divorce. Many opt for DIY divorce because they are wracked with sticker shock over the price of hiring a lawyer to do their divorce in-full, when in reality they could still utilize the legal expertise of a lawyer in-part.

Divorcing successfully with a DIY divorce is possible, but it’s a lot easier with legal counsel and representation. Family law attorneys are well-versed in the pitfalls and challenges of divorce, allowing you to spend less time trying to learn the law and more time focusing on your family and yourself during what is typically a challenging time.


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