Can I just file for divorce for $100?
The other day, I received a question on our Facebook page. It was, essentially, though this is not a direct quote: “How much would it cost to file for divorce if it’s just the paperwork?” Her question is actually a little more complicated (and a little less straightforward) than it might seem. Because she didn’t really specify where she is in the process – I don’t, for example, know whether there’s a written separation agreement already, or if it’s just the uncontested divorce that she needs – I couldn’t really give an answer.
If she doesn’t have a signed separation agreement, then she needs one – either that, or she’ll have to have a hearing in front of a judge dividing all the assets and liabilities in the marriage. If it’s just the uncontested divorce paperwork – complaint, final decree, affidavits, etc – then it’s a different situation entirely.
But, of course, the internet isn’t a confidential forum, so I advised that she come in for a consultation so we could figure out exactly what’s going on here, and I left it at that. It’s nearly impossible to quote prices and really discuss cases online, and, anyway, it’s not appropriate. These situations are often very sensitive, and when you post a comment on a business’s page, you’d be surprised who in your timeline can see what you’ve written. Best to keep it vague.
Anyway, someone else chimed in. (Isn’t that always the way?) She told the woman that she could just file her own divorce for less than $100.
Well, maybe. But this was such a misleading and incomplete answer (especially, as I mentioned, if this woman doesn’t yet have a separation agreement) that I felt I had to chime in again. In divorce, like in probably many, many different areas, there is a lot of misinformation out there, usually provided by well-meaning people who just don’t have a lot of knowledge on the subject. Divorce is state specific and constantly changing, so getting a divorce doesn’t necessarily qualify you to speak very knowledgeably on the subject.
I responded, saying that it is true that most courts charge somewhere in the $80 range to file for divorce. But I cautioned that this may or may not be where this particular woman’s case was leading her at the time, and advised that she talk to someone about the best way to move her case forward.
Well, a troll’s a troll. If you’ve been on the internet, you know it as well as I do. The woman responded that actually she did know, that she had been divorced twice, and done it herself all of those times. That this woman could, too. On and on it went.
To each her own, of course. And you are certainly entitled to file for divorce on your own.
You don’t know me, but I’ll tell you this: I avoid general discussions on social media like the plague. I don’t enjoy getting into arguments just for the sake of having arguments, though based of my profession that may surprise you. I really hate it. In fact, I’d never have engaged in this discussion at all if it wasn’t on the firm’s page, and it wasn’t such a – in my opinion – terribly misleading comment that could really encourage someone to screw up their case. After all, as a professional, I (that is to say, we) deal in worst case scenarios. So, while an attorney’s advice may seem overly cautious to the casual observer, it’s also because we’ve seen some pretty terrible scenarios, and it’s our goal to help you avoid them.
After all, a divorce attorney’s goal is twofold: to get you divorced as quickly, easily, and painlessly as possible, but ALSO (and this is the one people are often less familiar with) to help you avoid problems later on down the line. If you handwrite your own agreement or file your own divorce, you may run into problems later – big, messy, expensive problems! – that are harder to unravel. That’s always something I’m trying to avoid. Though I don’t have a crystal ball any more than you do, I have the benefit of having handled hundreds or even thousands of divorce cases, and even have the benefit of the experience of the other attorneys I work closely with on a daily basis.
Look, it’s your choice. Represent yourself if you like. But it’s not easy! Drafting your own separation agreement is complicated, especially if you have assets and/or children in common. You may not know what kinds of extra provisions you can put into the agreement to protect yourself (provisions on, for example, bankruptcy, attorney’s fees, subsequent litigation, omitted property, etc), and it may bite you later on. Additionally, if your agreement is vague or ambiguous and you and your husband have a dispute later on, you may have no choice but to go back to court to settle it.
The uncontested divorce isn’t easy, either! Even though you can often get a divorce by affidavit these days, that paperwork has to be PERFECT. Courts are notorious for rejecting decrees – for good and for bad reasons – and, without some experience and understanding, it can be hard to correct those mistakes.
There aren’t a lot of resources out there for people trying to do it themselves, either, and different courts apply a different level of scrutiny. So, even if that woman was divorced in the last six months in Hampton Roads, her divorce would look very, very different if she was divorced in Norfolk versus if her case was in Virginia Beach.
There are a lot of factors, which is why I suggested an appointment. You don’t have to hire an attorney to have an appointment with an attorney, either – but I do think it’s often a good idea to get some advice that is unique to your case before you start doing something that you might regret later.
And, wouldn’t you know it? Yesterday, when I walked into the office, the first thing the receptionist told me was that a woman had requested an appointment with me because her final decree was rejected by the court, and she couldn’t figure out why.
I won’t lie, it felt a little like validation.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys (even if you ultimately decide to do it yourself!) give our office a call at 757-425-5200.