The answer is almost certainly not. I have seen many people regret the day they represented themselves in a divorce, particularly when there is an attorney on the other side. Often, these are educated people. Sometimes, they run successful businesses that they created from the ground up. And many times, they end up with agreements approved by the family court that are unfair to them or not practical in their application, or both.
The following are some of the reasons why you should get an attorney:
- Some portions of agreements are final (unless very special circumstances exist), such as equitable division and a waiver of alimony.
- Some things, like child-related issues and support obligations, can’t be changed unless there is a change in circumstance. So if you later realize you don’t like it or it’s unfair, you can’t necessarily change it.
- Ambiguous terms and obligations can leave you paying more than you anticipated.
- There are certain tax consequences of which you should be aware.
Family law may seem straightforward, but it is the details that are often difficult. Many lawyers who don’t practice in family law are surprised to learn how complicated it can sometimes be. If some lawyers find it difficult, and they are trained to practice law, that should tell non-lawyers to pause before deciding to represent themselves.
Consider the following examples…
- The person who agrees to receive a certain amount of alimony on a monthly basis. This person believes it is enough to meet his monthly needs, until he realizes that it is taxable. But there has been no change of circumstances, so he is likely stuck.
- The person who agrees to pay certain monthly obligations, such as continuing health insurance, instead of a set alimony payment. What happens over the years if this health insurance premium increases, going from $300 to $600 a month? Can the spouse who was ordered to pay it, get it changed? Maybe it is a change in circumstance, but was it an anticipated change? And doesn’t the spouse who is covered now have different circumstances too? It is unclear.
- The person who takes his share of the marital estate in a 401(k) without considering that, to get the cash portion of it, he will be penalized and taxed. Again, equitable division is almost always final.
- The person who agrees to college support. One of the most well-intentioned unrepresented pitfalls in the family court is the provision that simply says: Father (or mother) will pay college expenses. What happens when the child elects to go to an expensive private school at the other parent’s insistence—the one who’s not paying—and no effort is made to obtain grants or scholarships? What happens when the child loses the Legislative Incentive for Future Excellence (LIFE) scholarship because he is not interested in doing well in school and isn’t invested in his education? The child suffers no financial consequences when he makes all Cs or Ds, and the parent who agrees to pay college expenses is probably stuck footing the bill. Not only is a lot of money wasted, but the child graduates college (if he graduates) viewing the world as a place where he is rewarded for no reason and effort is unnecessary.
The above are examples of how not having a lawyer can come back to haunt you. Getting divorced is serious business, and you should have a lawyer who is well versed in handling these sorts of issues. If you are facing a divorce or a Decree of Separate Maintenance and would like to discuss it, please do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Holland & Usry, PA at 864.582.0416 or toll free at 888.230.1841 for your confidential consultation.