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Divorcing without a lawyer may seem like a good way to save time and money. Going through the process isn’t impossible, but it is tough. Unless you’re a divorce lawyer, you probably don’t have any idea how the system works. Before you choose to get a divorce without a lawyer, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you and your spouse agree?
If you and your partner are agreeable and always try to be, there’s a chance you could get a divorce without a lawyer. Think about when family and financial decisions are on the table, are you and your partner likely to agree? When you’re both feeling stressed, sad, or angry, are you able to come to a consensus then? If you and your spouse are in agreement on all issues including family, finances, assets, etc then you may be able to divorce without a lawyer or mediator.
- Are you an emotional human being?
Even you can agree on things, divorcing someone is a profoundly emotional event in one’s life. Divorce touches on your family, lifestyle, finances, and sense of self. Moving through a divorce with or without a lawyer will take a toll on your energy levels. Are you prepared to be professional and productive in processing your divorce all while feeling upset, angry, and emotional at times?
- Do you have a fair amount of time to do the work?
When you hire a lawyer to process your divorce , he or she is doing a job that takes time and energy. Are you willing to forgo that service and take on the time it takes to settle a divorce on your own, even while working your normal job? Will you have enough patience to devote to the process? Do you have the time to research your state’s law, gather and draft the proper documentation, and follow through with court filings and appearances?
- Do you enjoy handling your own finances? Doing paperwork?
Answer honestly, do you enjoy doing paperwork? If not, you should consult a lawyer. Do you do your own taxes? That’s probably a good test for how much you enjoy forms and paperwork. Of course, online document production services are available and probably better than what a non-lawyer could write. But still, when it comes to the rest of your life, there is a lot at stake.
- Do you have young children?
If you have kids, you’re going to need to create a parenting plan and schedule. You’ll have to determine who has legal custody of the children, where they will live, and who will make major decisions for them post-divorce. If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of deciding these points with your partner, you should be prepared to consult a lawyer. Disagreeing about parenting your children can cause a lot of pain for all parties involved. However, if you’re comfortable with the arrangements for your children when it comes to custody, support, and shared parenting time, then you have come to a fair settlement where you may not need a lawyer.
- Will you or your spouse want or need alimony or child support?
Maybe you and your spouse are in complete agreement when it comes to the future of raising your kids, but if either of you requires alimony or child support, it’s best to have an attorney draw up the paperwork for you. That way you have something to fall back on if you and your ex don’t agree in the future. There are many nuances in the law surrounding spousal support and who is entitled to what. It may be difficult to calculate these important numbers that will affect your future.
- Are your finances known? Are they complicated?
If your head is already spinning, it’s best to consult a lawyer. If you have a relatively simple financial situation, you may be able to sort it out yourself. Determine if your financial situation is known. Do you have access to documentation like tax returns, bank and credit card statements? You can’t divide what you don’t know exists.
If you and your spouse have regular jobs, simple retirement plans, few assets, minimal debt, and you don’t own real estate together, your finances are considered simple. If you own a business, real estate, and many assets, it’s best to consult a professional in order to divide everything fairly. If you’re satisfied that you have complete information about your family’s assets and debts and these are fairly simple, you may be able to divorce without using a lawyer.
- Have you considered your taxes?
A divorce is a series of financial decisions that come with some serious and long-term tax considerations. You may want to consider consulting an certified divorce financial analyst , accountant or tax preparer who can inform you of any potential tax issues you’ll face post-divorce.
- Do you own real estate?
If you have plans to keep your house or any other property instead of selling it during the divorce, things will be more complicated. Your house is probably one of the biggest assets you own. You need to be willing to confirm every detail about how you and your spouse intend to own and manage any real estate together after you’ve divorced. If this is handled improperly, you could find yourself being responsible for paying for a home you don’t or can’t use. If you have real estate that will not be sold before your divorce, it’s highly advisable to consult a lawyer.
- Do you and your spouse have retirement plans?
After real estate, retirement accounts are probably your next highest asset. Retirement plans vary, some can be complicated and others relatively simple. If you or your spouse has a pension, additional paperwork will be required, and your taxes will be affected. Divorce lawyers are especially competent in matters like dividing pensions, 401k, and retirement funds.
No matter how intelligent you are, the divorce system is unlike anything you’ve ever managed. Before you choose to divorce without a lawyer, attend a Second Saturday workshop  where you can ask a divorce lawyer any questions.