DIY Divorce: When Is it a Good Idea?
DIY divorce is not new, and it’s completely appropriate for some family situations. Understanding the scope of your case is vital to understanding whether you have the skill, patience, and time to complete your case on your own, or whether you want to bring in outside help.
The good news is that outside help can come in many forms and is designed to fit your needs, level of comfort, and budget. However, like most things, just because you can do something on your own doesn’t mean you should. And while I am hesitant to recommend taking on additional debt on top of a divorce, it can be a necessary evil.
Take stock of your case and the relative complexity of your situation as you evaluate the feasibility of a DIY divorce or child custody. High-value estates are not always harder. In fact, a divorce where the parties have a house with no equity, one retirement account, and a lot of debt could be more complicated than a case where the parties are dividing a seven-figure estate.
The reason is because houses, debt, and retirement accounts are factors that involve special attention. If a house can sell, the parties might each walk away with cash to start fresh. But what if one party wants to stay in the home? Then you have to consider their ability and timeline to refinance, ensure sufficiently protective language in the orders, and proper execution of the appropriate paperwork.
Debt-only communities are likewise complicated. Because many consumer and credit card accounts will not allow one party to remove their name until the debt is eliminated, regardless of who is supposed to pay the debt, there is an ongoing risk to the other spouse. If your community is overwhelmed by its debt, it might be worthwhile to consult with a bankruptcy attorney to understand your options.
Retirement accounts, including pensions and 401(k) plans, typically are divided between parties by using a document called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). Various state and federal laws govern retirement plans, the division of those funds, and the options available to the parties, such as survivor benefits. It is important to have someone who is familiar with the laws that apply to your plan draft those documents to ensure that each party receives their portion of the asset.
Finally, if your case involves children and child support, it is important to understand the law surrounding custody, decision-making, and support issues. When parties are getting along, it is easy to write a basic parenting plan that leaves a lot of things to chance. However, it is vital that a parenting plan cover all contingencies, so that the parties have something to rely on in the future if agreements become harder to reach.
None of this should scare you off from working with the other party to complete your divorce on your own. There are benefits to working together and achieving orders that meet everyone’s needs and desires. In the State of Washington, we use mandatory forms, which are available online. Reviewing these forms before your case begins will help you get an idea of what you will be required to complete and execute in order to finalize your case.
If you do start on your own, consider where you could be out of your depth and consult an attorney. Most attorneys will review paperwork or provide information to you at an hourly rate, which is often very affordable and will be well worth the cost in the end.