Do-It-Yourself Divorces, What Can Go Wrong?

Parties to do-it-yourself divorce agreements are often divorcing on good terms and have uncomplicated finances. But they can run in to problems down the road if they have problems resolving post-divorce issues because they were not addressed properly in the Marital Settlement Agreement (the divorce agreement). Sometimes post-divorce issues are unavoidable.

Family law attorneys guide spouses through their divorce and also with issues that arise after a divorce. The resolution of post-divorce issues, such as financial and child-related issues, is governed by the Marital Settlement Agreement. We will look at some of post-divorce issues that arise from “do-it-yourself” divorces with Lydia Sartain, a family law expert with Stewart, Melvin & Frost.

Lydia’s firm – Stewart, Melvin & Frost – is one of Northeast Georgia’s largest and fastest law firms. It is widely respected as an “Uncommon Practice” – featuring an experienced team of attorneys recognized individually as experts in highly specialized areas of the law.

Question: What circumstances can change post-divorce that might cause problems with a divorce settlement?

Lydia: Some of the more common things that happen post-divorce are changing economic circumstances that require a new support order, or parties disagree about visitation or child- related decisions. These easily preventable problems arise because parties enter into a divorce agreement without working with attorneys.

Parties to do-it-yourself divorce agreements are often divorcing on good terms and have uncomplicated finances, so they think they can do it without a lawyer. But handling the divorce yourself does not insulate parties from problems.

Question: How common is it for issues to arise?

Lydia: Unfortunately, without the assistance of an attorney, there are many problems that can be created, because the typical person does not know the issues to look for.

Question: What are some of the disputes that arise?

Lydia: There are many problems that arise with DIY divorce agreements and can happen even in simple agreements. Such as:

o Being too general.

o Failing to list assets, especially retirement funds, and assuming that they go to the person who earned them. That can be a wrong assumption.

o Failure to include the legal description of real estate.

o Not being specific enough in the parenting plan.

o Enforcement Issues: Simply put, some courts cannot recognize or enforce agreements made by other courts. For example, if parties obtain a custody judgment in a state or territory where their children have never lived, that judgment cannot be recognized and enforced.

o These problems may not be obvious at first, and are not realized until months or years later.

• When they do become obvious, they are much more difficult and expensive to unravel.

Questions: What are the consequences?

Lydia: Certain issues can be a basis for a court to vacate all or part of an agreement. You can do your own divorce, but you assume the risk of doing so.

When you have an attorney do it, they assume that risk for you, and have the professional training and experience to make sure it is done properly. If you do it yourself, at a minimum you should have an attorney review your paperwork, so that obvious errors can be identified and eliminated.

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