Do-it-yourself Divorce: Is it right for you? 9 factors and 3 tips for going it alone.

Posted On: Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A DIY divorce – the process of obtaining a divorce from your spouse without the assistance of experts or professionals – usually motivated by the desire to save money – is an option in Massachusetts.  While a DIY divorce is cheaper to obtain, it may be costly in the long run.  How do you know if it’s right for you?

A DIY divorce may be right for you if:

1.     You and your spouse are satisfied that you have both made full disclosure of all assets, and are in agreement as to how to split up your property;

2.     You and your spouse are satisfied that you have both made full disclosure of all debt, have no serious financial problems, and are in agreement as to how to share the debt;

3.     You and your spouse either have no minor children together, or are in agreement as to the best arrangements for your children concerning custody, parenting time, and child support; and

4.     You are both satisfied that your agreement is fair and reasonable, and will both sign and submit the divorce paperwork.

A DIY divorce is not a good idea for you if:

1.              You have reason to believe that your spouse has not made full disclosure of assets, and may be hiding assets or transferring money out of your reach;

2.              You and your spouse cannot agree on how to split up your property;

3.              You and your spouse cannot agree on child-related issues, such as custody, visitation and child support;

4.              There is a history of domestic violence, physical or emotional abuse such that you are in fear for your safety or that of your children; or

5.              There exists a large amount of animosity and tension rendering it impossible or extremely difficult for you and your spouse to communicate.

Tips for spouses considering a DIY divorce:

1.              Consult an attorney.  Take advantage of a free consultation with a divorce attorney to explain your situation and learn if a DIY divorce is right for you;

2.              Consider hiring an attorney to advise you on your rights, and to handle certain tasks, while you handle the remainder.   This offers you more control over the cost of your legal representation.   This form of representation – called Limited Assistance Representation – may be appropriate in certain circumstances, where you’re able and willing to handle some tasks by yourself; and

3.              Know the risks of going it alone.  Divorce attorneys have specific knowledge and experience which allows them to have an understanding of what the Court will consider “reasonable,” “equitable,” and in your children’s “best interests”.  In addition, they can foresee potential long term consequences you may not be aware of, and plan accordingly. (For example, division of assets is final, whereas child-related issues are subject to change in the future.)  If your spouse has an attorney, it is not a good idea to go it alone.

Should you hire a divorce lawyer to handle your divorce?

Some scholars believe this question is as rhetorical as the question of whether you should you hire a surgeon to handle your surgery.  The reality is that divorce is not always  terribly complicated, and, more importantly, not everyone has the money to hire a divorce lawyer.

What’s the bottom line?

If you believe you’re a good candidate for a DIY divorce, with some time and patience you should be able to find the information and forms you need online and via a free consultation with a divorce attorney.  While the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court cannot give legal advice, the clerks are able to answer basic questions about what and how to file, and some Courts have a Lawyer of the Day on hand to answer questions.  At worst, if you find you’re in over your head, you can hire an attorney.