Facing the financial struggle of splitting into two households, many married couples try and save money by representing themselves in their divorce. For some couples—it can be feasible. For most it’s a bad idea. Do-it-yourself is great when you are putting together Ikea furniture or changing you oil, but divorce and custody matters are more permanent and important. Do-it-yourself divorce is especially bad when there is a power imbalance between the spouses or when one spouse is trying to muscle the other into accepting less than what they are entitled to. The trouble is that most spouses don’t have any idea what reimbursements, support, custody, etc. they are entitled to unless they consult with an attorney.
Why DIY Divorce Is a Bad Idea:
- Unless you have no children, no assets, no debts, and no desire for spousal support, divorce is a complex legal process.
- Power imbalances are usually exacerbated when couples fill out forms on their own.
- Both websites with forms and legal document assistants are unable to furnish any legal advice. At all. None.
- No one is accountable, except you.
- The California Judicial Council legal forms that these websites provide are already available from the court website for free (you are getting charged for something free).
- Most sites provide California Judicial Council legal forms, but don’t provide any local forms that may be required by the court.
- Do you know about Watts charges and Epstein credits?
- Do you know how to write a QDRO? Neither do most of these websites, don’t feel bad.
- Do you know how long spousal support should last or how much it should be?
- Did you know that if you construct spousal support the wrong way, the IRS can get upset and call it something else? See front-load recapturing here.
A Specific Example:
Now this isn’t the most drastic example, but we ran into this very recently. A couple divorced and did it DIY. They used a “stock” marital settlement agreement (MSA) purchased from a website. Their MSA calls for each parent to pay for half of all healthcare expenses not paid by insurance coverage. Sounds okay right?
Now, the father is refusing to pay large orthodontic bills, claiming that orthodontia is not a healthcare expense. The mother has to file a court action (at some expense) trying to force the father to pay. A judge is going to have to use his time to decide whether or not the term “healthcare” is broad enough to cover orthodontia—which arguably it is. It seems to me that the term “medical care” would exclude orthodontia, while the term “healthcare” is more broad and inclusive.
A marital settlement agreement written by any competent family law attorney would have been more specific than the stock form this couple used. It would have addressed whether or not orthodontia, vision, dental and other fields of healthcare were to be paid equally by the parents rather than using the broad term “healthcare.”
I recently needed to buy a new squeegee for my shower door. I bought the cheapest one at Target. It was a third the price of the others. I brought it home and discovered: it’s rigid, it squeaks, and it’s horrible. It seems you get what you pay for in life, squeegees and legal needs alike.