TOP TEN MISTAKES PEOPLE MAKE WHEN THEY FILE FOR DIVORCE WITHOUT A LAWYER

In the last few months, I've been working on a series on how to file for divorce without a lawyer in West Virginia.  Next week, I'll continue in that series with a post on the hearing.  However, I'll pause today and remind readers of some of the mistakes you can make when filing for divorce without a lawyer.

1-Paying for divorce pleadings on-line.  Most states have the forms for divorce available online, for free.  These are usually developed by the courts and are the best forms to use.  Plus they are free!  

2-Paying for a paralegal to write your paperwork. If you don’t want to draft your divorce paperwork or pleadings, you may be able to find a lawyer to do that for you.  Contact attorneys and ask if they provide “unbundled legal services.” 

3-Filing for divorce without a written agreement.  Most of us would not leave for a trip with a GPS or road map telling us where we want to go.  It is not a good idea to begin a legal divorce proceeding without an agreement.   You file the petition and have no idea how your spouse will respond.  Figure out where you stand BEFORE you file by reaching a written agreement.  (Remember, in some states signing an agreement is binding, so if you have any questions, you should consult with a lawyer BEFORE signing.)

4-Not getting the financial information together.  In most states, all property acquired during the marriage is divided up as marital property. Marital property usually includes retirement accounts, investments, and pensions.  Be sure you have documented all of your financial information before you put down that filing fee.

5-Asking the judge to come up with your parenting plan.  Really?  I have good friends who are great judges but even after a full days hearing they won’t know as much about your children as you do.  You and your spouse should develop a parenting plan that includes decision making, holidays, summers and custodial time.  A mediator can help you tailor a parenting plan for your family.

6-Failing to ask for legal advice if you have questions.  If you want to know your rights, talk to a lawyer.  After you develop a written property settlement agreement, meet with a lawyer before you sign it.  Many lawyers will schedule time just to review your agreement.  From there, you can decide whether or not you need any changes. 

7-Ignoring the possibility of collaborative law.  Some people file without a lawyer just because they don’t want to be part of the adversarial process.  In collaborative law, you have a lawyer, but you’ll be working with a lawyer who trained in how to resolve conflict through collaboration.  Don’t give up on the legal system until you’ve explored collaborative law.

8-Taking legal advice from anyone besides a lawyer.  If you’ve decided you don’t need a lawyer, don’t rely on your neighbor or best friend for legal advice.  They might know a lot about you, but not the law.  If you want to proceed without a lawyer, that might be a good option, but that also means that you will be limited to your limited knowledge when relying on the law and your rights.

9-Not planning financially.  Along with getting the agreement before you file, you should also create a financial plan, including budgets, where you will both be able to feel as secure as possible after the divorce.  Judges are not financial planners, and they have a lot of cases.  Even if you decide against using attorneys, you will benefit from working with a specially trained financial neutral  in creating those budgets.

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do you own divorce but don't base it on tv

10-Basing your expectations on television.  Without a lawyer to guide you through the process, you may find yourself developing expectations based on stories that your friends tell you, or worse yet, what you see on television.  Every location, every judge, every situation, every family is different.  If you need some help setting expectations, you may want to, at least, consult with a  lawyer to check those expectations.

While many people successfully file for divorce without hiring an attorney, be sure to consider these possible mistakes when you are making your decision about how to proceed with your own divorce.