Pitfalls of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Divorce

Man's index finger pushing red “Divorce” key on computer keyboard.

Google and other search engines have given us access to more information than at any other time in history. Many websites now offer forms for various legal purposes, including family law matters like divorce. This type of resource might make it tempting for people to try to get divorced without any legal representation, but do-it-yourself divorce is rarely, if ever, a good idea. Connecticut family laws are complex, and people without a legal background can make mistakes that could cost them in one way or another. The family attorneys at Lawrence & Jurkiewicz offer cost-effective options to help you make sure you have covered every important detail and prepared all the necessary paperwork.

Can I Represent Myself in a Divorce?

Connecticut law does not require you to have a lawyer for your divorce case. You might be able to work out agreements with your spouse on many of the important issues. Without legal advice based on your specific circumstances, though, you might not know whether you have covered everything that state law includes in your case.

Should I Represent Myself in a Divorce?

People often believe that their divorce will be simple and that they will not need a divorce lawyer. Mistakes, however, are much more common than the vast majority of non-lawyers realize. If you and your spouse have minor children, the judge will take a particularly close look at your case to make sure everything is in the children’s best interests. A divorce lawyer can help you avoid mistakes that could prevent a judge from granting your divorce or cause other problems in the future.

What Are the Pitfalls of a Do-It-Yourself Divorce?

Common pitfalls that can trip up a DIY divorce include the following:

Errors in Filing Paperwork

A divorce is, in essence, a lawsuit between two spouses. It must be filed with the correct clerk in the correct court in the county that has jurisdiction to hear the case.

Counties in Connecticut often each have their own unique filing requirements or customs. Clerks can be quite picky about compliance with these rules. While you might find a sympathetic employee in a clerk’s office, helping you get the paperwork exactly right is not part of their job description. Only a lawyer can give you legal advice in that regard.

Trying to Rush the Process

Many people, once they have made the decision to seek a divorce, are impatient to “get it over with.” Rushing the divorce process can lead to mistakes. It can also result in a settlement agreement that, at a minimum, one or both spouses will regret later. At worst, they will have to go back to court to revisit issues that they did not settle completely. Modifying an order requires a whole new court proceeding.

Misunderstanding the Division of Property in Divorce

Property division in a Connecticut divorce case is not merely a 50/50 split between the spouses. Connecticut law requires an “equitable” division of property, not an “equal” one. “Equitable” essentially means “fair.” A judge can look at all of the spouses’ property when deciding what is “equitable,” including property that either spouse owned before the marriage. And, while some aspects of divorce judgments, like periodic alimony and child support, can be modified under certain circumstances, final orders in the nature of property division cannot be modified, even if circumstances change.

Not Preparing a Parenting Plan

In Connecticut divorces involving children, judges want to see parenting plans that outline, at a minimum:

  • How the parents will make decisions affecting the child;
  • How they will schedule parenting time;
  • How they will share expenses for the child; and
  • How they may resolve disputes that will inevitably arise.

A parenting plan cannot prepare for every possible issue. In higher-conflict situations, a parenting plan needs to provide detailed guidance for the parents as they move forward.

Not Understanding Child Support Obligations

Connecticut, like most states, has a set of guidelines for the amount of child support. It requires careful calculations of both parents’ “gross” and “net” income. The guidelines are complicated, and often require assistance from an experienced professional. The amount may deviate from the guidelines in certain situations, such as if a child has special education or medical needs.

Not Understanding Spousal Maintenance

Unlike child support, Connecticut has no formal guidelines for spousal maintenance, also known as alimony. Spousal maintenance is not required in any case. A court might award maintenance when one spouse has been financially dependent on the other spouse for a long period of time, and needs time to reach a point where they can support themselves.

Not Taking Future Costs into Account

People who are going through a divorce often have a hard time thinking too far into the future. As a result, their agreement might only focus on their expenses and needs at the time of the divorce, and not on what it will cost each of them to live independently. They might also overlook the tax consequences of getting divorced and filing as single people again. Professionals are needed to help anticipate the economic transition of one household becoming two.

Thinking that DIY Means No Legal Help at Any Time

A DIY divorce is not an all-or-nothing procedure. Just because someone decided to file for divorce without a lawyer does not mean that they can never seek legal advice at any time. Parties to a DIY divorce can consult with their own divorce lawyers even after their case is underway. Connecticut allows “limited scope” representation, so although it’s better to have legal representation from start to finish, you can hire a lawyer only for specific parts of your case.

What Are My Options for Legal Help When Getting a Divorce?

Many people who opt for a DIY divorce worry about the expense of hiring attorneys. They might think that a divorce attorney’s only job is to fight it out in court. Litigation can become quite expensive over time, but other options are available that provide the benefit of a lawyer’s knowledge and experience while potentially saving time and money:

  • Divorce mediation provides a neutral third party who can help spouses reach a settlement agreement that covers every important issue.
  • Collaborative law allows the spouses to work with a team of professionals whose goal is to help them resolve their disputes and settle the divorce.
  • What is right for you depends on your unique situation.

The divorce process is often complicated, and it is always difficult and emotional. The good news is that you do not have to do it on your own. The divorce lawyers at Lawrence & Jurkiewicz represent people in Hartford and Litchfield County who need help with divorce and other family law issues. To schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (860) 926-1697.

Categories: Divorce