Jul 7, 2014

The High Cost of a DIY Divorce Agreement

Family law attorneys help people with their divorces and also with issues that arise after a divorce. Resolution of post-divorce issues is governed by the Marital Settlement Agreement (divorce agreement), which contains both parties’ rights and responsibilities regarding financial and child-related issues.

Sometimes post-divorce issues are unavoidable. For example, changing economic circumstances require a new support order, or parties disagree about visitation issues or child- related decisions.

Other times, easily preventable problems arise because parties enter into a marital settlement agreement and obtain a divorce without attorneys.  Parties to do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce agreements are often divorcing on good terms and have uncomplicated finances.  These factors do not insulate parties from problems, however.  The problems that arise with DIY divorce agreements are many and happen even in simple agreements.  Certain issues can be a basis for a court to vacate all or part of an agreement; several of these are:

1.  Failure to Make a Full and Correct Financial Disclosure: Failure to exchange complete financial disclosure, or to include the appropriate waivers of financial disclosure can be a basis to vacate a divorce judgment and marital settlement agreement.  Family law attorneys know the required financial disclosures and waivers to incorporate to avoid problems.

2.  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.  In this instance, parties have no enforceable custody judgment and must start from the beginning with a court that has authority to enter the custody judgment.

3.  Support Waivers: Many marital settlement agreements give a party spousal support, child support, or both.  All marital settlements must contain a spousal support waiver for a party who is not awarded it.  Even if a party is not given spousal support in an agreement, failure to include a waiver may allow that party to ask the Court to award support later on.

Supporting two households instead of one puts financial strain on most divorcing couples and it is tempting to forgo the additional and potentially significant cost of attorneys.  Keep this in mind, however: fixing problems arising from DIY divorce agreements, particularly those that cause a court to vacate all or part of an agreement, can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  Further, those problems may never be resolved to reflect the original agreement between the parties.  Weigh the cost of starting over, or living with a court’s order that is not the agreement you thought you had against the cost of an attorney to protect your interests to preserve the intent of your divorce settlement.

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