If you are going through a divorce, money is probably constantly on your mind. In this Divorce Academy video, Kevin explores whether it is practical for you to file your own divorce and shows you just how much money you could save.
Hey everyone. Welcome to Divorce Academy. I’m Kevin Handy, and I’m one of the divorce mediators here at SnapDivorce. In today’s video, I’m going to answer your question, “Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer to File for Divorce?” If you’ve googled that and found this video you’re probably thinking, “I want to do my divorce myself.” That’s why you’re searching for that answer. I’m going to warn you about confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is when people seek out information that is going to confirm what they already want to do. You’re probably looking for information that confirms your desire to file for divorce yourself. I’m going to warn you listen to the video carefully because in most circumstances it is a terrible idea for people to file for divorce themselves. That being said, the short answer to the question “Do I need a lawyer to file for divorce?” is no. You don’t need a lawyer to file for divorce. Just like you don’t need a surgeon to take out your appendix. You can do it yourself, but it’s probably a terrible idea. But bear with me because towards the end of the video I am going to say it’s okay in some limited circumstances.
Do You Need A Lawyer to Get Divorced?
The question you should be really asking yourself is, “Should I use a lawyer to get divorced?” Smart people already know the answer to that question. It’s a big yes. There’s a lot of advantages to using a lawyer. And when I say lawyer I mean a divorce mediator or a lawyer, basically a professional that’s going to help you get through the divorce process. The answer to the second question, should you use a divorce lawyer? it’s yes.
A Divorce Lawyer or Divorce Mediator Can Save You Money
First of all, a divorce lawyer or a divorce mediator is going to save you money. If you’re thinking about not using a lawyer you’re probably thinking you want to do it because oh, “I want to save money. I’m not going to pay a couple of $1,000 for an attorney. I’ll save all that money.” The reality is, is that a lawyer or a divorce mediator is going to pay for themselves by saving you money in ways you probably haven’t thought about.
First off, they can do a proper analysis of the assets in your case. There are marital assets and non-marital assets. Most people can’t identify which is which. You’re not going to know if the increase in value on a non-martial asset after the date of separation marital property or not, subject to equitable distribution. Should we value our retirement accounts as of the date of separation? Or the date the divorce complaint was filed? Or the date they are going to be distributed? There are all kinds of questions like this that have to do with identifying and valuing marital assets. If you do it wrong – it can cost you 10s to 100s of thousands of dollars. A divorce mediator or divorce lawyer can calculate support properly.
You are Likely To Make an Expensive Mistake if You Try to Handle Your Divorce Yourself
You might think, “Oh I can run the numbers. I found a program online.” I’m telling you, from my experience, it is easy to make mistakes. If you make a mistake that is only $300 a month, say you come up with $1,500 of support, but there are some tweaks and maybe you forgot to include certain deductions. Maybe you didn’t get the discount for over 40% of custody time that’s available in our state. There are all kinds of nuisances to calculations. If you come up with $1,500, but the right number is $1,200, that’s $300 a month. That might not seem like a lot of money on a monthly basis, but over the course of the year, you’re talking $3,600. And over the course of a child support order, you’re talking a lot of money. It’s very easy to make those types of mistakes.
Tax Consequences. When you’re dividing marital property, you have to take into consideration tax consequences. What’s the difference between distributing the equity in marital residence versus a retirement account versus a Roth IRA. You have to balance all of those to come up with a fair distribution. Again, it can make thousands or tens of thousands of dollars difference depending on the size of your estate.
Advise as to concessions. If you’re trying to negotiate with your spouse yourself you’re not going to know what’s important and what’s not important – where you should make concessions. You might have a general idea, but a lawyer or a divorce mediator is going to help you focus on what’s important to your case, and know where to give a little a bit to get a deal done.
Help with the transfer of retirement accounts. Transferring money from one spouse to another from retirement accounts is a little tricky. A lot of the time you’re going to need something called a qualified domestic relations order. I didn’t have any idea what that was before I became a divorce attorney. I doubt you have any idea what it is, and even if you do there’s almost no chance you know how to do it correctly. If you make mistakes you’re going to pay penalties, taxes, and you can also screw up the transfer from the retirement account itself. If you have a pension and you don’t order the qualified domestic relations order correctly you may miss out on the cost of living adjustments. You may miss out on a survivor annuity. These are big mistakes. A lawyer or a divorce mediator is going to help you avoid costly mistakes.
Divorce Professionals Will Get Your Case Done Correctly
The next big point. A divorce lawyer or a divorce mediator is going to help your case get done correctly. Lawyers are trained to do something called issue spotting and lay people are not. It’s actually something we do in law school. You may think that when people go to law school they are studying and memorizing the law, but that’s not true. They are learning to think like a lawyer, and part of that is issue spotting. I see people come in all the time and say, “Oh we have our deal done. Here it is.” And I say, “Did you think about this? Did you think about that? Did you think about the details of getting your house sold?”
Issue spotting also runs into drafting skills. Not only do you have to spot the issues and know what you have to address in your agreements you also have to be able to draft it clearly and concisely so it is enforceable. I don’t know how many times people have come into my office and said, “Hey I have this marital settlement agreement. We did it ourselves. My spouse is not cooperating.” And they hand it to me and its ambiguous, its vague, and it’s going to be very difficult to go into court and enforce the agreement. I see divorce mediators that are not divorce attorney’s draft poor agreements. Those are other advantages to having a divorce lawyer or a divorce attorney-mediator draft your agreements.
Knowledge of the court system. When you’re negotiating you have to have a good idea about how your case would turn out if you went to court. If you’re just negotiating blindly you may give away way too much. An attorney mediator or an attorney is going to have the experience in the court system. They are going to know how much support is appropriate in your case, how long you should pay alimony, how marital assets should be distributed. Is it a 50/50 case or a 60/40 case? You’re not going to know that, so you’re not going to know how to negotiate your case. You’re not going to know what’s fair so you may end up giving away way too much. These are all areas that can be very costly.
A Divorce Lawyer or Mediator Will Save You Time and Frustration
Overall, a lawyer is going to save you time and frustration. Let’s say you have the simplest case in the world, and you just have to process a simple divorce. Even that, is going to take you hours to figure out how to do. It is well worth it to pay an attorney to do this. My comparison is, I don’t change my oil. Yeah, I’m going to pay a little more if I go to Jiffy Lube, but I’m not going to go out and buy the oil and figure out how to drain my oil tank and put on a new filter. It’s crazy. You hire a professional to do it and trying to do your own divorce is like trying to change your own oil. It’s going to messy, it’s going to be more expensive, it’s going to take you all day. It’s just a terrible idea, and it’s not going to save you that much money if you get a simple divorce.
There’s a quote that lawyers always throw around, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” If a lawyer is a fool who represents himself, just think what you are. Even lawyers who are getting a divorce that aren’t divorce lawyers, hire divorce lawyers to represent them. I personally represent several attorneys that are not divorce lawyers in their divorces. They are smart, even they know enough to hire a lawyer to represent them, even though they have more skills and experience then you probably do. If lawyers are hiring divorce lawyers to represent them in their divorce, don’t you think you should?
There’s value in good advice. You’re going to save money. You’re going to get your case done correctly. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Don’t save from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars on a divorce lawyer, and then make a mistake that costs you 5, 10, 15, 100,000 dollars. It’s not worth it.
I told you. There are some very limited circumstances where it’s okay, you can file for divorce yourself. If you meet these criteria, I’m saying it’s okay, I’m giving you permission to file for divorce yourself.
1. You have no marital property
You and your spouse haven’t collected anything during the course of your marriage, and no pre-marital, property has gone up in value. So basically, you have nothing.
2. There’s no jointly tied property
So, you don’t have a house that’s in both of your names, because if you have jointly titled property and you get divorced before that property is distributed it’s going to cause you a huge headache and it’s going to be 10x more complicated to do it after your divorce than before.
3. Alimony is not an issue in your case
If you think you are entitled to alimony, do not try and get divorced on your own. Recently, we had a woman come in and she thought she was in great shape. She said, “Alright, I got divorced myself, it’s all done. I’m ready to get my alimony.” And we all said, “It’s too late. You waived it. If you’re divorced and you didn’t get the alimony, you’re done.” Her face was just in awe. Why she didn’t talk to a divorce attorney before? I have no idea. That was a HUGE mistake on her part. Huge. It probably cost her $100,000.
4. You have lots of time on your hands
If you’re retired and you’re sitting around with nothing better to do and you want to spend your time trying to figure out how to process your divorce, more power to you. For regular people who have jobs and kids and stuff, you just don’t have the time or energy. And or you’re a lower income person. If a couple of hundred bucks make a difference to you and you want to spend your weekends trying to figure out how to get divorced. I guess that makes sense.
How much can you save processing a divorce yourself? A simple divorce, I say about $500. That’s how much you’ll save. You see online, its $295 for a divorce. Well, they are selling you a kit of paperwork, and then you have to fill out all of the paperwork and then file the divorce yourself. So, in addition to the $300 you’re paying, you’re going to have to pay $400/$500 in filing fees. For just a few hundred dollars more you can have a divorce lawyer or a divorce mediator process your divorce. They’ll do it right. It will be done quickly, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
There’s your answer to the question, “Do I need a lawyer to file for divorce?” You almost certainly do and even in those limited cases where you could probably do it yourself – it’s probably not worth it. I hope this was helpful to you, and I’ll see you next time on Divorce Academy. Thanks!