Many people have heard horror stories about how expensive a divorce can be. You will be dividing your assets and liabilities and possibly need to pay child support, alimony, or both. Add to this the cost of legal fees, and the financial strain can be overwhelming! This is why some people decide to go it alone and represent themselves rather than hire an attorney. When someone represents themselves in their legal matter, they are referred to as a pro se litigant. Pro se (pronounced “pro say”) is a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself, on one’s own behalf.” These DIY divorces can actually cost you more than hiring an attorney. Here we will discuss some common pitfalls we’ve seen in pro se divorces and how the right attorney can save you time and money.
Divorces can be emotional and difficult. Often when I meet with a client for the first time, they are overwhelmed, hurt, and possibly angry about the end of their marriage. It can be difficult for someone to narrow down the important issues in their case and determine what they are entitled to under the law. Think of this as leaving money on the table; you will never ask for it if you don’t know what you are entitled to. I have often seen pro se litigants make well-thought-out presentations on something the judge cannot order under the law and not mention something they are entitled to. This results in the pro se litigant walking out of the courtroom without receiving their entitled relief. It is essential to know your goals for your case and what you are and are not entitled to under the law. Providing this perspective of what can and cannot be achieved in your case is extremely valuable and can ensure that you are not walking away from something that you may be entitled to or arguing for a result you have no possibility of achieving.
The devil is in the details, and you may not know what detail is missed until it is too late. We frequently consult with clients who represented themselves in their divorce and now have significant issues because a detail was left out of an agreement, final judgment, or court order. Often the person we are meeting with has no idea that a specific detail or provision should be included and only realize the importance of this detail when it is too late. If not addressed properly the first time, these details can cost you thousands of dollars later to correct, if a correction is even possible. You may have missed a detail dealing with a financial issue, a parenting issue, or both.
It truly is a scary situation when you realize that you have unknowingly agreed to give away more of your retirement plan than you intended because you did not properly provide all the details regarding the plan’s valuation and the date of valuation. You may also be terrified to learn that you are paying more in child support or not receiving enough in child support because the child support guidelines did not factor in a minor detail like health insurance costs or adequately account for taxes. You may find yourself in a situation where you cannot obtain a new mortgage because there was no requirement for the other party to take your name off a joint debt. You can avoid these problems by adequately considering and addressing these situations in your divorce. Some financial issues, like those dealing with child support and possibly alimony, can be fixed, and other financial issues, like those dealing with equitable distribution, cannot. Even if you are able to modify a provision of your divorce related to a financial issue, you will likely spend substantially more getting this resolution than you would have to hire an attorney to assist you in the first place.
Of all the divorce horror stories, the worst involve one parent realizing that by not putting in exact times and dates for holiday time-sharing exchanges, the other parent will have all major holidays with the children until they become adults. Imagine missing all the holiday fun with your children because you did not properly document a holiday time-sharing schedule. You may think hammering out all these details is useless and will cause additional conflict during your divorce. While addressing parenting plan details during your divorce may bring up difficult conversation points, these conversations do not get easier the longer you are divorced. It is always better to address these issues and resolve these conflicts up front. This allows each parent to understand the schedule and what to expect in the coming years. While things may seem peaceful during your divorce, and you and your partner do not need a detailed parenting plan to co-parent, this rarely works out in the long term. Parents that operated in a friendly manner for years may suddenly change their tune when new significant others are introduced into the relationship and families are blended. In the best cases, we can assist in modifying parenting plans and ensuring important details regarding time-sharing are put in place. In other cases, nothing can be done, and you may be stuck dealing with a parenting plan that does not provide you with the time you anticipated spending with your children. You can never put a price on the memories you create with your children. Having an attorney assist you in your initial divorce will ensure you are getting to spend time with your children that you are entitled to.
Mistakes can be made even when your divorce does not seem scary and everything is going smoothly. They can range from something simple like not properly documenting child support figures or even misunderstanding the language in an agreement or order. Sometimes people misunderstand how time-sharing is calculated for child support under the Florida Child Support Guidelines. This can lead to a substantial increase in what someone may be paying in child support. I have seen parents believe that their time-sharing schedule provided for a certain amount of time-sharing with their children, only to realize when it is too late that their final judgment didn’t provide them with the amount of time they thought. This mistake can cost parents substantial time with their children. Parties have misunderstood expenses the other party is responsible for and incurred additional fees and costs for things they did not know they would be responsible for paying. Parties also have had to pay additional obligations or debts because their agreements and orders related to the equitable distribution of assets and liabilities were not correctly calculated or recorded. Mistakes and misunderstandings can often cost you a lot more to resolve than making sure a qualified attorney handled your divorce properly the first time.
So how do you avoid becoming a DIY divorce horror story? You first need to realize that very few cases could not benefit from the assistance of a qualified licensed attorney who practices in the area of family law. If you own property with your spouse, have children, or have a retirement account, you must have an attorney involved in your divorce. Attorney involvement can range from reviewing and drafting agreements to make sure all the details are covered to aggressively advocating for your goals and position.
Selecting the right attorney can save you thousands in the long run and a lot of heartache and stress. You want to pick an attorney that fully understands your goals and what is important to you. Remember that an aggressive approach is not always the best approach. If you are focusing on reducing legal fees, you will want to find an attorney who will give you honest advice and options to settle your case outside the courtroom. This is not always possible; sometimes, a more aggressive approach is necessary. Hiring an attorney will not make your case more contested. You will benefit from experience and advice to advocate for a fair resolution and address all essential details. At McCart & Tesmer, P.A., we focus our practice on family law and provide our clients with sound legal advice regarding their family law cases. We believe every case is unique and encourage parties to make a peaceful resolution to their family law matters when appropriate. Avoid the pitfalls of a pro se divorce. Schedule a consultation to discuss your case by calling (813) 498-2757 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.