If you are planning a divorce, you’ve done internet research, and gotten many pop up ads for ‘Do It Yourself” (“DIY”) divorce kits. Divorce is a dissolution of marriage. Should you attempt to dissolve it yourself, or let a lawyer handle all the work? The answer depends on you and your circumstances.
The Numbers Game
When you and your spouse want a divorce, agree on the terms, and haven’t been together long enough to accumulate community property and debts, DIY divorce could work. Less is more: the less time you were married, the less property you have to divide. There won’t be complex debate over separate versus community property when neither of you had much property, or much time to accumulate it. It is easier to settle when there is little, or nothing to divide.
“This Won’t End Well”
While Arizona allows self-representation in divorce cases, it holds the party to the same standard as lawyers. If you miss a deadline, or sign a divorce agreement without fully understanding the terms, you’re out of luck. You can’t plead ineffective assistance of counsel—the courts presume you knew all the risks and must take the consequences. You are playing Russian roulette with your future.
What could go wrong? Plenty. Suppose you file for a divorce, but your spouse decides to contest it and hires an attorney. That attorney will be able to get their client, your ex, a good settlement, at your expense. They know all the rules, and if your dissolution proceeding goes before a judge, they can have some of your evidence excluded, if you don’t follow the rules. Do not try to represent yourself if the divorce is contested. Get help, even if it’s behind the scenes. Only a lawyer will know how to present your evidence, and dispute any claims made by your spouse’s attorney.
Truth or Consequences
Suppose your spouse earned a higher salary, and had accrued a pension, while you were married. Maybe he or she is more sophisticated about finances, and hired a lawyer who is equally sophisticated. You’d be very foolish if you chose to represent yourself just to save on the legal fees. You do not have an in depth knowledge of Arizona Community Property Law, and might waive your rights to spousal maintenance or child support. There are cases in which you could be entitled to stock options, but only a lawyer will know the full extent of your rights. Even in the friendliest divorces, your ex-spouse is not going to give you a blank check. They want to protect their future, not yours. If they wanted a future with you, there would be no divorce.
Think It Over
Everybody loves a bargain, and our society has become infatuated with ‘do it yourself’ projects: remodel your home, bathroom, etc. How many people try to fix a leaky faucet, only to wind up with a flooded kitchen, and a huge bill from the plumber? They’d have saved all that time and trouble if they’d called the plumber in the first place. It’s the same thing with divorce. If you attempt to represent yourself in divorce proceedings, you may create a total disaster.