Why a DIY Divorce May Not Be a Bargain

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Brett Pritchard Law

Updated on April 10, 2024

If you are facing a divorce, the idea is to get to the other side as efficiently, inexpensively, and painlessly as possible. However, emotions run high when it comes to divorce, and the one universal truth is that every divorcing couple should expect the unexpected.

Many couples 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.

If you have done all the difficult work necessary to determine that you need a divorce – or if your spouse is seeking a divorce – you may be tempted to take the do-it-yourself route. After all, you can look almost anything up online, and DIY divorce kits are out there – how hard can it be?

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 divorce is a complicated legal matter, and your parental and financial rights are on the line.

Without legal counsel, your divorce terms could have unanticipated effects that leave you at a distinct disadvantage. You owe it to yourself to work closely with an experienced Killeen divorce attorney from the outset.

The Allure of the Do-It-Yourself Divorce Kit

Plenty of DIY divorce kits are out there, so it stands to reason that they must serve an important function. However, while a divorce kit can provide you with basic information regarding obtaining a divorce in Texas, it cannot factor in the unique circumstances involved in your divorce. A DIY divorce kit can leave you hanging when it comes to protecting your rights.

Even the most straightforward divorce in which both spouses are committed to finalizing the matter as effectively and efficiently as possible – with as little drama as possible – can become contentious in the blink of an eye. When this happens, that DIY divorce in a box you invested in is unlikely to get things moving in the right direction.

Having a Divorce Attorney in Your Corner

If you and your divorcing spouse are on the same page regarding your divorce terms and are both focused on resolving the matter posthaste, you should consider yourself lucky, but you should not forgo having legal counsel on your side.

Divorce incorporates a lot of interconnected moving parts, which can lead to unexpected consequences. By consulting with a dedicated divorce attorney early on, you help to ensure that your rights are well protected throughout the legal process, and you get the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are not overlooking anything that could negatively affect your future.

It is also important to note that your focused divorce attorney is committed to expediting the divorce process where possible while negotiating divorce terms that uphold your rights and work for you and your children.

If you and your divorcing spouse remain invested in a smooth divorce process with as little turbulence as you can manage, your trusted divorce attorney is there to help make that happen. However, if your divorce does encounter some snags along the way, you will be well prepared to avoid the dreaded snowball effect that spins far too many divorces out of control.

If you ultimately find yourself facing a dramatic impasse, having a seasoned Killeen divorce attorney who is up to speed with your case can prove invaluable. In other words, hiring a divorce attorney can be a financially sound investment that ultimately saves you more money than going with a DIY divorce.

Filing for Divorce

Filing for divorce is generally the easy part, and it begins with the Original Petition for Divorce. Whoever initiates the divorce by filing must have their spouse served with these papers. However, if you and your spouse agree on getting a divorce, the non-filing party can waive the need for service, and the papers can simply be shared.

This divorce petition notifies the court that you are seeking a divorce and, if it is fault based, your reason for doing so. It is important to note, however, that most Texas divorces are no fault, which means they are based on what many people think of as irreconcilable differences.

No-fault divorces tend to be less complicated, contentious, costly, and time consuming. However, there are instances in which seeking a divorce based on fault makes sense, and this is something that must be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis.

In your petition, you can also seek relief, which refers to a set of requests submitted to the court before your case is finalized. Examples include:

  • Child support while your divorce is pending

  • Spousal maintenance – or alimony – while your divorce is pending

  • The living situation in terms of your family home while your divorce is pending

  • A parenting time schedule while your divorce is pending

While filing this petition is not particularly complicated, it sets the stage for your divorce, and there are important factors that must be considered – factors that can have a significant impact while your divorce is pending, which can be quite a long time. Also, the status quo established while your divorce is pending can affect your final terms, which means the terms during divorce shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Having a handle on your divorce from the outset is the best way to help ensure that it proceeds smoothly and results in a favorable outcome, which makes ditching the DIY idea and working closely with a savvy Killeen divorce attorney in your best interest.

The Building Blocks of Your Divorce

Once you have filed for divorce in the state of Texas, it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty of the matter, which means resolving the divorce terms that apply in your unique situation. While a divorce-in-a-box will help you better understand the divorce terms that you need to resolve, it can do little to help you actually resolve them, which is a primary pitfall of the DIY approach.

The basic building blocks of every divorce include negotiating the following terms (as applicable):

  • Your child custody arrangements (called conservatorship in Texas)

  • Child support

  • The equitable division of your marital property

  • Spousal maintenance (what you may think of as alimony)

You and your divorcing spouse must find the middle ground for each term that applies. At the same time, you will also need to ensure that you are protecting your rights (in relation to a number of complicated variables).

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 remember 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.

Without the keen legal insight of a Killeen divorce lawyer, it’s difficult to proceed with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your rights are well protected in the context of your unique circumstances, your children, your finances, and your post-divorce future, which is always the goal.

Financial Risks

If you’re considering seeking a divorce in the State of Texas without the benefit of professional legal counsel, it’s important to understand the challenges you’ll face. 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).

There are only a few exceptions to marital property that is subject to division upon divorce:

  • Gifts or inheritances that were addressed to one spouse only

  • The pain and suffering component of a personal injury claim either spouse brought during the marriage

The division between marital and separate property can be incredibly 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:

  • 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

  • The contributions each spouse made to the marriage, including caring for the children and of taking care of the home

  • 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

  • Tax considerations

  • The spousal and child support obligations involved

  • Attorney fees and the cost of litigation

It probably comes as no surprise that property division has the potential to be one of the most hotly contested divorce terms, and the outcome can directly affect your finances far into the future. As such, even a small error or oversight in this arena can prove financially devastating, and having professional legal representation on your side can more than pay for itself.

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 means that it is always in your best interests to discuss the matter early on with an experienced Killeen divorce attorney who is well acquainted with the specifics of your case.

Related Article: 5 Tips for Dividing Your Marital Property

Alimony

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.

Alimony is generally ordered for the amount of time the recipient reasonably needs to become better prepared to support himself or herself through further education or job training.

Alimony is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to divorce terms, but when appropriate, it can play an important financial role in the recipient’s future. However, the longer the marriage and the closer the recipient is to retirement age,the more likely it is that long-term alimony will be awarded.

If you and your divorcing spouse are unable to negotiate alimony on your own, the court will consider a vast array of factors before making the determination on your behalf. These factors include several important considerations:

  • The length of the marriage

  • 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)

  • Each spouse’s income

  • Each spouse’s property division and separate assets

  • Each spouse’s level of education and earning potential

  • Each spouse’s age and overall health

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 during divorce, 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 physical custody (the schedule by which your children split their time between the two of you) and legal custody (the determination regarding who will make big-picture decisions on behalf of your children).

Legal Custody

The matters that legal custody addresses include the following kinds of questions:

You and your children’s other parent have a variety of options when it comes to the responsibilities associated with legal custody:

  • 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.

Physical Custody

Physical custody determines when your children will be with you and when they’ll be with their other parent. Your children won’t be living with you full-time any longer, and hammering out a schedule that balances you and your ex’s parental rights along with your children’s needs can be difficult in terms of logistics and can also turn into an emotional minefield.

The court’s focus for every matter that involves children is the best interest of those children. 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 unlikely to deny parent-child custody in one form or another without a 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:

  1. Your shared children will live primarily with one of you while they have a visitation schedule with the other.

  2. Your shared children will live with both of you equally or nearly equally, according to a schedule that works for everyone involved.

It is important to note that you have considerable discretion when devising a parenting schedule outside of the courtroom. However, if your case goes to trial, the judge will likely award you a standard parenting schedule that may not consider your specific scheduling needs.

Related Article: Custody and Your Child Support's Preference: FAQ

Gaining Perspective

Your role as parents can make it difficult for you and your divorcing spouse to step back and see the big picture, but your dedicated Killeen divorce attorney is more than capable of doing so. With professional legal guidance, you’ll understand the possibilities available to you and how the court is likely to rule in your case, which can give you the perspective you need to make the right decisions for you.

Best Interest Factors

Texas courts make every child custody determination in accordance with the involved children’s best interests, and in so doing, they take a wide variety of best interest factors like the following into careful consideration:

  • Each child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs, including any extraordinary needs

  • The preferences of those children who are considered mature enough to weigh in

  • Each parent’s level of involvement with raising the children thus far

  • The unique relationship each parent has forged with the children

  • Each parent’s level of commitment to engaging in effective co-parenting with the other

  • Each parent’s level of commitment to supporting the other’s close and ongoing relationship with the children

  • Each parent’s ability to effectively address each child’s unique needs

  • Each parent’s age and overall physical and mental health

  • Each child’s age and overall physical and mental health

  • How well the status quo is working in terms of the children’s primary residence, school, and community

  • The distance the parents live from one another

In other words, a lot goes into making parenting time decisions, and you’ll need to strike a balance that works for you, makes sense in your situation, supports your children’s best interests, and your soon-to-be ex agrees to. Without a knowledgeable attorney in your corner, this is an exceptionally tall order.

Child Support

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 detailed 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 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.

Child Support that Is Open Ended

While child support is relatively straightforward, this doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule. Child support typically applies until the covered child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever comes later. However, when a child has significant special needs that require significant care, the court can order ongoing child support with no end date.

Child Support that Ends Early

In some instances, child support can end before the covered child reaches the milestone of turning 18 or graduating from high school. The following circumstances generally end child support for a shared child:

  • Marriage

  • Entry into the military services

  • Emancipation by the court

These are all occurrences that signal the child’s ability to address their own needs, which ends the child support obligation.

Without an Attorney

While a DIY divorce kit can help you get your divorce filed, it is unlikely to have your back beyond this point. Divorce is a process, which means you need an overall view of the terrain ahead as well as a solid plan regarding how you will navigate toward an outcome that honors your rights and works for you in your unique situation.

All a divorce kit can do for you is outline the basics and give you an encouraging push into the abyss. Without an experienced Killeen 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, negotiate strategically, and hammer out terms that work for you and your kids (without losing sight of your rights).

Your attorney can help you in all of the following ways – each of which can help guide your divorce toward an advantageous conclusion:

  • Outlining your priorities to ensure that the choices you make are not at cross purposes with your overall goals

  • Knowing when to compromise and when to hold firm in the negotiation process

  • Understanding the divorce process and making well-informed decisions that work for you throughout

  • Strategizing an approach that allows you greater leverage in terms of negotiating beneficial terms

  • Avoiding the pitfalls that those without practiced legal representation often experience

Taking a willy-nilly approach to divorce is not going to serve you, your children, or your future well, and do-it-yourself divorce kits provide little more than an outline for divorce, which can set you on a random course that does nothing to protect your financial and parental rights or to provide you with insight regarding how best to proceed.

Divorce requires a level of intentionality that a boxed kit simply cannot provide.

Resolving Your Divorce Terms

When it comes to resolving the terms of your divorce, you have several options:

  • Negotiating the terms between yourselves without legal guidance, which can lead to unpleasant surprises in your future

  • Negotiating the terms between yourselves under the focused guidance of your respective divorce attorneys

  • Allowing your respective divorce attorneys to negotiate with one another on behalf of each spouse’s best interests – if negotiations break down between you and your spouse

  • Proceeding to mediation, where you, your divorcing spouse, and your respective divorce attorneys will explore your best options under the skilled guidance of a professional mediator who serves as a neutral third party

If you are ultimately unable to come to a mutually acceptable resolution to one or more terms, you’ll need the court’s intervention on the matter. Without a knowledgeable Killeen divorce attorney to help build and present your strongest case, going to court can be particularly daunting.

Financial Shenanigans

A very real concern of a DIY divorce is that your spouse may take the opportunity to get up to financial shenanigans.

This concern 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 problem 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 your assets) can mean the difference between obtaining a just division of your marital assets and being left financially disadvantaged post-divorce.

FAQ about Divorce

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 should not be seen as a sign of your distrust. Working closely with your dedicated Killeen 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 gets to your spouse and things 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 approach can give you more leverage in 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), and identifying your divorce 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 serve your legal needs skillfully, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 today.

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