The perils of a DIY divorce

The legal process of terminating a marriage—“divorce”—is relatively straightforward. However, the details surrounding the divorce—the dividing of assets, the dividing of debt, determining what happens to health insurance, the kids, support, etc. is far more complicated, and should be done at the time of divorce. A word to the wise? Get advice from a seasoned attorney as to your rights and obligations before you try DIY divorce. This is true regardless of how long you have been married.

Our case files at Ryan Faenza Carey are filled with the stories of clients who attempted DIY divorce, only to later regret it and come to us for assistance after the fact. In some cases, what clients thought they had agreed to did not correspond to the language in their written agreement. In other cases, the intent in the agreement was unclear, and subject to different interpretations. In other cases, critical issues were not dealt with at all, leaving a mess to be cleaned up at much greater expense than it would have been to do it right in the first place (if it could be rectified at all).

It is far more difficult to undo a divorce Agreement after the divorce, even if it is fair and equitable to do so. In haste to save time or money or both, the DIY divorce often ends up with one spouse unintentially receiving a windfall, to the detriment of the other spouse. And there is little, or nothing, that can be done about it without the agreement of both parties. Oftentimes, the Court can only look to the “four corners” of the Agreement to determine what the parties’ intent was; and often, the Agreement is silent and no intent can be drawn.

These oversights, or mistakes, can add up to thousands of dollars and/or cost years or decades of aggravation. Consider these examples:

  • A spouse who agrees to pay a year of support to help his or her spouse get back on their feet…….and forgets to include any termination date for the support.
  • A spouse who agrees that the real estate in the wife’s name will stay in the wife’s name…..only to later find out that the real estate was in the name of the husband, not the wife.
  • An agreement that requires one party to maintain and pay for a spouse on a health insurance plan for 2 years, only to find out that the plan itself will not provide insurance.
  • An agreement that one party will get a certain amount from the other’s retirement account, prior to the value of that retirement account taking a nose dive and being cut in half owing to market conditions.

These types of agreements raise more questions than answers, (What to do?) The issues are sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to resolve.  These are mistakes that are easy to avoid at the time of the Agreement, but difficult or impossible to resolve afterwards. Courts are reluctant to take a “second look” after an Agreement is signed, and we are sadly sometimes forced to tell a client after the fact that there is nothing that can be done.

A DIY divorce, without any advice or oversight from a divorce and family law attorney, is a recipe for unintentional error, or even disaster. Proceed with the utmost caution, as you do so at your own peril. Whether you have a consultation with an attorney, or have an attorney for limited assistance, or have an attorney formally represent you, invest in the advice of a seasoned professional before you close the deal.

Scroll to Top