Do It Yourself Divorce–Is Self Help For Me?

More and more people are opting for the DIY approach or Self Help Divorce in order to avoid both conflict and the huge expense of attorneys.  However, there are some things that you need to keep in mind if you are thinking of taking that approach, even if both you and your spouse seem to agree on everything.

Do I Really Have the Time and Ability to Do Self Help Divorce Properly?

Before you make a decision, take a look at your state’s court websites to see if they have forms and processes available for you to do this and to determine how complicated it will be.  In Oregon, you can look get forms at

http://courts.oregon.gov/OJD/OSCA/cpsd/courtimprovement/familylaw/familylawforms.page

Be sure that you really look the forms and instructions over carefully.  For example, Oregon’s self help forms contain over 20 packet options and while some are self explanatory; others are not and include forms that supplement other packets.  You may find that many forms and instructions are far from user friendly and that you will need some help to complete them.

Do I Really Know What All the Issues Are That Need to Be Covered in the Divorce Judgment and How to Handle Them?

Even if you use court supplied forms, you may not know all the issues that have to be covered in the Judgment.   What impact will it have on your taxes to pay more or less child or spousal support (alimony)? How do you put a value on personal property or a personal business?  How do you handle a home that is worth less than you owe on it?  How do you divide retirement accounts?  The last question requires you to know the difference between various kinds of retirement accounts and, again, how their value is determined.  The most complex retirement funds to deal with are Federal and State government accounts and military retirement funds since they often include other benefits that should be addressed.  Often additional paperwork needs to be filed with the court and/or retirement plan to assure that the retirement account holders give the money to the right person.

What Options Do I Have to Get Help With a DIY Divorce

Some courts have family court assistance offices to help you fill out paperwork.  See, for example, http://courts.oregon.gov/Lane/FamilyandChildren/Pages/Assist.aspx.  However, the staff members in these offices are limited in the kind of help they can give—usually only telling you what forms you need and what you need to fill out in each They are not able to tell you what issues need to be addressed in your individual situation or answer the kinds of questions listed above.  You can also hire the services of a Paralegal.  But, again, they are not able to give advice about options and legal questions.

The best options to assure you get all the information you need to complete the divorce properly are using “limited” attorney services and/or the services of a mediator

More and more attorneys are offering what is referred to either as “unbundled services” or “limited representation.”  These lawyers will meet with you to review your particular situation and give you advice on what issues you need to address in your divorce and how to address them.  Usually this involves one or two meetings with the attorney.  You often have the choice of having the attorney prepare the paperwork for you, or doing it yourself, and having the attorney just review what you have done.

Finally, you could hire the services of a mediator.  While an attorney would meet with only one of the parties to a divorce to give advice—usually from that parties’ perspective, a mediator meets with both parties to address all the necessary issues in a way that meets both parties’ needs.  Again, the mediator may or may not prepare paperwork for filing court or help you with the DIY forms.

As with any Do It Yourself Project, you want to be sure you are not taking on more than you can handle and that you get the advice and help to do it properly.  Hiring someone to fix something after it is done wrong is much more costly.
Posted in Divorce & Child Custody, Family Conflict, Separation Agreements, Uncontested Divorce Tagged with: ,

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