DIY Divorce: Bargain or Costly Mistake?
By Tanja M. Holecek and B. Nicole Bush
Divorce can be expensive, emotional, and lengthy, even in the best of cases. So called “do-it-yourself” or “DIY Divorce” applications such as Legal Zoom, 3 step divorce, or Divorce Writer claim to simplify divorce for couples who have agreed on all issues, or who have virtually no assets or debt, and no children. For these couples, DIY Divorce may be functional and cost effective, but they are not designed to replace the experience and knowledge of a family law attorney.
In the ballpark of $179 for a divorce packet, you receive state-specific forms based on an initial “online interview” where only a few questions are asked. Forms are then prepared and emailed to the purchaser. The purchaser then files the paperwork with the appropriate Court (filing fee not included) and then it is off to divorce court. Simple? Perhaps too simple.
Unfortunately, without the guidance of a knowledgeable divorce attorney, even those with a straightforward divorce may find that problems present themselves after the paperwork is filed or, even worse, after the final decree is signed by the Judge. The companies have delivered the product promised– paperwork acceptable to file in court – but the user fails to consider that an experienced family law attorney brings more to a case than merely filling in a form.
Consider a common item, such as agreeing on who should retain the marital home. A generated form will not draft language that sets limits on the time permissible for a party to refinance the outstanding (joint) mortgage into his or her separate name, what to do if a refinance is not possible, or how to proceed if such refinance does not happen (although required in the paperwork). A form does not know the history of your spouse’s poor credit and cannot tell you that it may be better for both spouses to simply sell the marital home and payoff the outstanding mortgage balance. Having an experienced attorney draft documents to anticipate certain common problems saves money in the long run and may avoid an expensive and frustrating visit back to court.
DIY Divorce applications may work for people with uncontested divorces, especially those who do not have property to divide or children of the marriage. For others, as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for” …or perhaps you end up paying much more than you bargained for. Choose wisely.