Why a DIY Divorce May Not Be a Bargain
If you are facing a divorce, the idea is to get to the other side as efficiently, inexpensively, and painlessly as possible. When it comes to divorce, however, emotions run high, and the one universal truth is that every divorcing couple should expect the unexpected. Many couples who are pursuing divorce are motivated to keep the cost down and believe that proceeding without the professional legal guidance of an experienced divorce attorney is the surest way to manage this. While it stands to reason that keeping your legal costs to a minimum can help you keep your divorce costs low, it is important to remember that your parental and financial rights are on the line and that, without legal counsel, your divorce terms could have unanticipated effects that leave you at a distinct disadvantage.
The Building Blocks of Your Divorce
Your divorce will be specific to your family and the circumstances involved, but the basic building blocks of every divorce include negotiating the following terms (as applicable):
Your child custody arrangements (called conservatorship in Texas)
The equitable division of your marital property
Spousal maintenance (what you may think of as alimony)
Not only must you and your divorcing spouse find the middle ground in relation to each term that applies, but you will also need to ensure that you are protecting your rights (in relation to a number of complicated variables) at the same time.
If You and Your Spouse Are on the Same Page
Even if you and your divorcing spouse are on the same page on every single term that applies to your divorce, moving forward without legal guidance is not advised. The divorce terms that you sign off on are binding, and matters such as tax implications that you may not have even considered can come back to haunt you. Another point to keep in mind is that many divorces that begin with both spouses in total agreement devolve into something far more contentious. Such is the nature of divorce. Having steady legal guidance on your side from the outset can save you expense and heartache in the long run.
The Financial Risks
The division of your marital property and alimony (if applicable) will set the stage for your financial future, which makes addressing these matters with keen awareness critical.
The Division of Your Marital Property
Those assets that you and your spouse acquire while you are married amount to your marital property, and those assets that either of you brings into your marriage with you will remain your separate property (if you keep them separate throughout your marriage). The division between marital and separate property can be especially complicated and can lead to especially difficult legal challenges. In Texas, your marital property must be divided equitably (or fairly in relation to the circumstances involved) in the event of divorce, and wide-ranging factors can play a role in this division, including:
The age, health, and earning potential of both you and your spouse
The overall size of your marital estate
The amount of separate property owned by each of you
Whether or not one of you is deemed at fault for your marriage’s failure
Whether or not either of you wasted, got rid of, gave away, or otherwise disappeared marital assets
The spousal and child support obligations involved
Attorney fees and the cost of litigation
This division of your shared assets can be very complicated, and once you have accepted terms addressing the matter, you will have no further recourse. This makes discussing the matter early on with an experienced divorce attorney who is well acquainted with the specifics of your case in your best interests.
RELATED ARTICLES: 5 Tips for Dividing Your Marital Property
Alimony is a payment system the State of Texas employs to help ensure that a spouse who is financially disadvantaged by divorce receives the financial boost he or she needs (from his or her ex who has the financial means to help) to become financially independent. If you and your divorcing spouse are unable to negotiate alimony on your own, the court will take a vast array of factors into consideration in making the determination on your behalf, including things like the length of your marriage and the recipient’s non-financial contributions to the marriage (such as staying home and caring for the children while the other spouse grew his or her career). Failing to obtain the alimony payments you deserve can make your post-divorce future far more difficult financially.
Risks to your Parental Rights
Your parental rights also hang in the balance, and setting up custody arrangements that do not put your best interests at the forefront can have devastating effects. In Texas, child custody arrangements are divided into both physical custody (the schedule by which your children split their time between the two of you, and legal custody (the determination regarding who will be making big picture decisions on behalf of your children).
The kinds of questions that legal custody addresses include:
Questions about your children’s schooling
Questions about your children’s healthcare needs
Questions about your children’s extracurriculars
Questions about your children’s religious upbringing
You and your children’s other parent have a variety of options when it comes to the responsibilities associated with legal custody, including:
You can both share the responsibility.
You can both share the responsibility, and one of you will take on tie-breaking authority (after you have taken the time to hash the matter out between the two of you).
One of you can take on the responsibility on your own.
One of you can take on the responsibility for specific kinds of questions, while the other takes on the responsibility for the others.
The court’s focus for every matter that involves children is the best interest of those children, and when it comes to physical custody, reigning wisdom finds that children’s needs are best served by continuing to foster strong relationships with both parents. As such, the court is very unlikely to deny parent-child custody in one form or another without a very significant reason for doing so. The bottom line is that you and your ex will almost certainly share custody, and this can play out in one of two ways, including:
Your shared children will live primarily with one of you while they have a visitation schedule with the other.
Your shared children will live with both of you equally or nearly equally – in accordance with a schedule that works for everyone involved.
It is important to note that – while you have considerable discretion when it comes to devising a parenting schedule outside of the courtroom – if your case does go to trial, the judge presiding over it is very likely to award you a standard parenting schedule that may not take your specific scheduling needs into consideration.
RELATED ARTICLES: Custody and Your Child Support's Preference: FAQ
Child support is the state’s way of ensuring that both parents continue to support their children financially, and these payments are calculated according to careful state guidelines that take many factors into consideration, but the primary concerns include the amount of time each parent spends with the children and the income of each. As such, it is most common for a parent with primary custody to receive child support from the other, but even when parenting time is divided more evenly, the higher earner is usually responsible for child support payments.
Without an Attorney
Without an experienced divorce attorney in your corner, you will be required to make critical decisions that will directly affect you and your children’s futures while you are in the midst of an extremely emotional and stressful life event that may be pushing your spouse to behave erratically (at best). In other words, you are in the eye of the storm, and it can tear you in many different directions. A divorce attorney will help you focus on what matters most to you, pick your battles wisely, to negotiate strategically, and hammer out terms that work for you and your kids (without losing sight of your rights).
A very real concern of a DIY divorce is that your spouse may take the opportunity to get up to financial shenanigans. This is especially relevant if you have less overall knowledge of your family’s finances – and less direct connection with the financial ins and outs of your marriage. In such a situation, it is far easier for your spouse to pull one over on you and hide assets (or otherwise make your marital assets seem less robust than they actually are). Discovering this on your own while going through a divorce can be next to impossible, but having an attorney watching out for your financial rights (and putting together a complete picture of what your assets are) can mean the difference between obtaining a just division of your marital assets and not doing so.
The answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to divorce may help you make the right decisions for yourself.
What if I trust my spouse?
Hiring an experienced divorce attorney is not an indictment of your spouse, and it should not be seen as a sign of your distrust. Working closely with your dedicated divorce attorney is simply a way for you to better understand what your divorce and divorce terms are going to mean for you and to protect your own and your children’s best interests in the process. If the stress of divorce does get to your spouse and things do begin to go south, you will be better prepared to face the issue with an attorney by your side (having an attorney, however, does not make this more likely).
Will hiring an attorney slow down the process?
Obtaining a divorce is a complicated legal process, and without a divorce attorney guiding your case, you are far more likely to face administrative complications that can slow you down. It also must be said that many amicable-seeming divorces go completely off course with the passage of time, and having a divorce attorney guiding your case can help you spot the warning signs and keep things moving forward.
What role does a divorce attorney play?
The fact is that your divorce will be unique to you and your circumstances, and you may need considerable guidance and assistance from your divorce attorney, or you may require only basic legal oversight as you and your divorcing spouse negotiate terms between yourselves that you can both live with. Consider the following array of tasks that your divorce attorney is well prepared to take on (as necessary):
Ensuring that your divorce papers are in order and filed correctly
Filing any motions that become necessary along the way
Guiding discovery to ensure that you have the documentation you need to make well-informed decisions
Helping you explore your options and recognize your divorce priorities as you devise your negotiation strategy
Guiding your divorce toward its most expedient conclusion (while protecting your rights along the way)
Helping you address any post-divorce modifications that may arise
What are divorce priorities?
Your divorce priorities are those matters that are the most important to you. Your divorce attorney will help you determine which terms you are willing to fight for and which you are willing to loosen your grip on. This can give you more leverage when it comes to negotiations and helps you avoid taking a scattershot approach that isn’t likely to serve your best interests. The upset of divorce can leave you wanting to win every point (regardless of whether it is significant to you or not), and identifying your priorities early on can help you avoid this distraction.
Turn to an Experienced Killeen Divorce Attorney for the Legal Guidance You Need
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is an accomplished divorce attorney who is committed to helping you obtain divorce terms that protect your rights while streamlining the divorce process to the greatest extent possible. We’re here to skillfully serve your legal needs, so please do not hesitate to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 today.