Thursday, September 4, 2014

DIY Divorce - Should You?

The short answer is:  probably not.    Unless you have no kids, no marital property and have lived apart for a year (MD requirement) before filing AND have lived in a Maryland for a year before filing, maybe you can do yourself.   Everything else, you need an attorney.   And not just because I believe in full employment for family law attorneys.

But wait, do you even know what marital property is?   Do you think it is just property that is jointly titled and everything with only one person's name on it is separate property?    Not true.   Marital property is anything acquired during marriage regardless of how titled, unless inherited, a gift to only party or by agreement not marital property.   What about pensions?   After all those are earned through one person's job so not marital right?   Wrong.    Because that money could have been spent on the family now it is considered marital property.

The law is full of nuances.   That is why attorneys go to law school, to learn how to work with those nuances.   We practice every day to get familiar with those nuances.   The judges hear cases about those nuances every day.   Do you think you can hit up a few internet sites and be sure you got it right?

Sure those sites exist.   Legal Zoom is a favorite.   They love to say their forms are accepted for filing in all 50 states.   Great wonderful.   But clerks will pretty much accept anything for filing as long as it is formatted right.   It's the form you care about, it's the substance.   Are you sure the generic agreement actually addresses the issues the way a state specific court will?

Take for instance the separation period for a no fault divorce.    Every state is different.   Maryland requires one year separate and apart.   Okay what does that mean?    If you don't know exactly what separate and apart means you might not get your divorce.

Custody.   Are you really going to entrust the future of your kids to some generic form you found on the internet?   These are your kids.   Sure you can agree that you and your spouse will share custody.   Okay, when are the kids with each parent.   Oh you mean mostly with one parent.   That is not shared custody.   But still when do they see the other parent?   By mutual agreement.   Wonderful.   What happens when the primarily custodial parent never agrees?   What happens when you disagree on a non-emergency medical procedure?   One parent wants to send the kids to private school, but wants the other parent to pay for it?   New significant others?    No problem or you want restrictions on when the kids meet?  

Do you know how long child support lasts in your state?   Do you know how you end it?   I had to help a guy in the family law clerk's office once because he was arguing with the clerk that the child support was ended because the kid was iwth him.   But he didn't have an order saying that.    He could not understand that it was not automatic thing.   He also had trouble with the concept of service.   He thought just telling the mom about how he wanted child support to end was enough.  

Do you know how to properly serve someone so the case goes forward?   In Maryland, a party cannot serve the papers.  

Then there is the whole emotional thing.   Your relationship with the other person is ending, whether through divorce or just two parents who never married going separate ways.   I often tell my clients it is just like a death.   It's the death of a relationship and you go through all the stages of grief from anger right through acceptance.   Sometimes it takes longer to get to acceptance than you think.   You might believe you are at acceptance but your actions are still allllllllll the way back at anger.   Can you put your emotions aside and do what is in the best interest of your kids?   Should your kids really be kept from the other parent or are you just so done with the other parent you want nothing to do with them?   You might be done, but the kids are not.   Even if kids are not involved, can you divide up the stuff fairly?   Do you think you should get everything because the other person cheated on you?   Yeah, it doesn't work that way.   Adultery may affect the division of property but in reality it rarely does.   Basically, can you put your emotions aside to do what needs to be done with the case or are you running the case based on your emotions toward the other person?   If you are too emotionally involved, you will not conduct a good case.   An attorney cares about the case but is not emotional about it.  

To sum up:   The person who represents himself has a fool for a client.   Get an attorney.   Getting it right the first time is worth the cost and waaaaay cheaper than trying to fix it later.

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