Yes, you read right. Clients are often astounded when I tell them that 1) arranging their own divorce is possible and 2) is a relatively straightforward process. If you or someone you know is looking to save themselves the time and heartache of litigating a divorce, please read on.
How To Arrange Your Own Divorce (The Quick and Dirty Version)
1. LEGAL CONSULTATION-First and foremost, always, always, always, seek out an independent legal consultation from a Family Law Attorney. Mind you I said “consultation”, not representation. This process involves going into an attorney’s office for an hour or two and receiving much needed legal advice and information. This is essential for anyone who hopes to arrange their own divorce so that you 1) are duly informed of your legal rights and 2) understand the best way to advocate for yourself during the divorce process. *Beware of Attorneys who convince you that you need ‘legal representation’ or to pay them a ‘retainer fee’, in order for them to work with you. * A simple legal consult generally runs you about $500 dollars.
2. FILING FORMS- If you are like most people (barring the attorney crowd), you have probably never set foot inside a courthouse (well at least, lets hope not). If you decide to venture over to your Family Court to pick up your ‘divorce packet’ you will most likely find yourself somewhat overwhelmed and/or confused about the process. The great thing about taxes, however, is that occasionally when you pay them, you get free stuff. And in this case there is a free Court Appointed Family Law Facilitator who is a licensed attorney, that works inside most Family Court Houses. Their primary responsibility is to answer all of your questions about forms and/or the filing process. NOTE: Family Law Facilitators DO NOT give legal advice. They only instruct you how to fill out forms, so if you’re looking to get a freebie, think again. If after speaking with the Family Law Facilitator and/the Court Clerks, you still find yourself mind-boggled and/or realize that you don’t have the time or mental energy to deal with all of the paperwork, then seek out the help of a Legal Document Assistant.
3. LEGAL DOCUMENT ASSISTANCE- My personal preferred method for Dissolution of a Marriage, is the legal document assistance route. If money is not of huge concern, I generally encourage my clients to start here, rather than the courthouse. Legal Document Assistance is a great resource for anyone who wants to avoid the headache of learning how to comprehend legalese and/or waiting on line for hours to file forms. Legal Document Assistants (LDAs), sometimes called Paralegals, obtain all of the relevant information you will need in order to finalize your divorce. But best of all, they complete all of the forms and finalize everything for you, so you never set foot inside of a courthouse! You can generally finalize a simple uncontested divorce, by paying an LDA anywhere from $500-1,000, on average. The caveat here being the word “uncontested”. If you find yourself embroiled in a battle with your soon to be ex, I suggest contacting a mediator IMMEDIATELY. DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT hire an attorney to represent you/litigate on your behalf, until you have exhausted all other avenues, like mediation; unless the image of you handing over your retirement and/or your child’s college tuition fund seems appealing.
4. MEDIATION- This is a process by which a neutral 3rd party professional, called a mediator, helps two disputing parties resolve and settle the issues between them. They will guide you through the process of resolving your divorce, while creating a safe environment for you and your spouse to explore viable options. Once you have reached an agreement over the issues in dispute, they will draft the details of your agreement into a document, which is then used to inform a legal document that is called a Marital Settlement Agreement(MSA). Some Divorce mediators who are also Attorneys, can draft your Marital Settlement Agreement for you, but if not, you can always hire another Attorney to do it for you. You can also take any mediated agreement to a legal document assistant, who will draft the MSA for a fraction of what an attorney would charge. Once you have obtained the MSA, your divorce is basically finalized, with the exception of a few other legal filing steps that need to be taken.
So there you have it, the DIY model for Divorce. In an ideal situation, one would only have to follow these steps to resolve their divorce. However, because divorce involves the human factor, nothing is every truly black and white. There are often speed bumps along the way, which is why you should always consult a professional(e.g. an Attorney, Legal Document Assistant and/or a Mediator), to help walk you through the process, should you get stuck.