DIY divorce might sound like it will be easier on your budget, and perhaps easier in general. But is this really true? Before you decide on self-representation, check out common pitfalls that can make the total cost (and total frustration) of a DIY divorce quickly add up.
Not knowing the law: You may have a really clear idea about what it is that you want in your divorce and what issues are simply non-negotiable for you. For example, what if you are positive that you want an alimony award that will last for ten years, even though you have only been married for five years? You certainly may feel that you are entitled to ten years of support, but the law in this case will most likely not be on your side. Certain statutes and case law in New Jersey govern alimony and a knowledgeable family attorney can guide you and advise you about what is legal for your particular case. This way, you are not wasting time arguing for a position that may be unrealistic, and ending up with even less than you may have originally been entitled to.
Dealing directly with your spouse: You and your spouse are already at odds at some level, otherwise you would not be divorcing. At worst, you are battling constantly. Without an attorney representing you, any communication regarding the divorce will have to be done by you, directly with your spouse. This can obviously elevate your stress and anxiety levels and can serve to inflame an already hostile situation. Agreements you may have made with each other about who gets what (even about simple things, like who gets the living room TV), may suddenly get tossed out the window, or bank accounts that you both still have access to, may suddenly be drained. With a attorneys acting as your advocate, your spouse will speak with your lawyer regarding any legal issues, and will understand how to safeguard you throughout the process, including how to protect joint accounts until they are properly allocated. You can simply advise your spouse to “talk to your lawyer” if he or she attempts to discuss any aspect of your divorce.
Having a non-level playing field: Even worse than having to deal directly with your soon-to-be ex, is having to deal with their attorney when you are not represented. Your spouse’s attorney will be able to talk with you directly about the case and will attempt to negotiate with you on behalf of your spouse. That attorney represents your spouse’s interests and does not work for the both of you. And, your spouse’s lawyer will undoubtedly have more knowledge and experience with divorce and family law, causing your divorce to take place on a very uneven playing field, and your putting your share of the settlement at risk for being minimized. On the other hand, having your own counsel will leave you with more peace of mind and less stress as they deal with your spouse’s lawyer directly.
The never-ending divorce: Divorce laws can get complex. The process and procedures can be confusing. If you elect to represent yourself, you will have to not only go through the process, but attempt to understand what the laws and procedures are that apply to your case. Do you have a full time job? Because now you have another one: figuring out the law! The court system and the judges have no obligation to explain to you the process, paperwork and timelines that are required for your divorce. Having a seasoned family law attorney who is experienced at navigating the system can move your case along much more quickly, save you on your time, and help you avoid having to learn on the fly during an already stressful time.
Not understanding what to do after the divorce: Many divorcing couples do not adequately prepare for life after the divorce is final. What will you do financially? Have you planned for your new life? Some ex spouses find themselves completely unprepared financially for life as a newly divorced person. If you have an attorney working for you, one of the many discussions you will have is planning for the time during your divorce as well as for the time afterward. Have you budgeted appropriately? Have you begun to establish your own credit? Will child support and/or spousal support be sufficient to meet your needs or will you need to find a job? Planning for the future is just as important as planning for your divorce.
Keeping Costs Low, Without the Risk For Mistakes: Making sure that your interests and the interests of your child are protected and represented is critical to success in your divorce. If at all possible, consider attempting to work out a settlement agreement with your spouse through mediation or even through a collaborative approach to the divorce. This will reduce costs and stress. Find an attorney that is supportive of mediation, collaboration and attempts to work out your own agreements with your spouse. Avoid an attorney that pushes litigation simply for the sake of spending your money in court unnecessarily. Retaining the right attorney for you can give you comfort in the knowledge that someone is strongly advocating for your position, backed by experience in family law here in New Jersey.
When you are ready, please contact us to schedule your initial consultation with one of our compassionate and qualified family law attorneys. Knowledge is power! We can assess your case and work with you to create a strategy for the road ahead.