If you would really just prefer not to hire an attorney, you’re definitely not alone. Whether it’s because you don’t have (or just don’t want to spend) the money or for some other reason, more and more people are asking me all the time about what their do it yourself options are.
You already know that do it yourself is a little dangerous. You don’t need me to tell you that. If you’ve looked for any of this type of stuff on the internet already, you’ve come face to face with dozens of nameless, faceless internet sources. You know full well that it’s very difficult to tell the good from the bad, and to know who (and what) to rely on. Without knowing who the source is, what his or her credentials are, and even how recent the information you’ve found is, it can be difficult to make any decisions or to know how to move forward (if at all).
After all, you’ve got a lot riding on this. Probably at the forefront of your mind are custody issues, if you have children, and how everything will be divided. Financially, divorce is one of the biggest and most important transactions in an adult’s life. Sure, we buy (and finance) houses and cars and other major purchases, but the divorce is the only process through which all of those acquisitions get divided all at once. And, on top of that, you and your spouse likely have retirement accounts, like 401(k)s and IRAs, profit sharing plans, stock options, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. If you or your spouse are in the military or a government employee, you have a complicated pension plan. Disability income, family owned businesses, inheritances, and other issues further complicate matters. Add on top of that all the debt you’ve accumulated, including (in some cases) student loans and credit cards, and, frankly, you have a lot of interest in how it all goes down. And that’s putting it pretty mildly.
But you’re not here to listen to me talk about all the stuff you have that needs to be divided. You’re here to find out, once and for all, is it possible to handle your divorce on your own?
The answer: yes, it is! It’s not easy, of course, but you probably already knew (or at least suspected) that. You’ve got to be very, very careful, because the internet is a veritable minefield of false (or misleading or outdated) information that can cause even the savviest woman to trip up a little. You don’t know anything about where you’re getting your information a lot of the time. Sometimes, you can’t even tell exactly who the author is—or, more importantly, what his or her credentials are. Timeliness is important, too, especially because the law changes so often. Something that was written back in April or May probably seems pretty recent to you, but did you know that there were several big changes to the law that were introduced on July 1st? So, how do you know that what you’re reading—even if it was written by a Virginia lawyer in the last year—really reflects the current state of the law? It’s tricky.
There’s no Legal Zoom divorce package in Virginia, and most of the other stuff out there is general form-type stuff. There are sample separation agreements, but if it’s not (1) up to date, (2) Virginia specific, (3) recent, and (4) written by a lawyer, how good is it actually?
My fear is that people who write their own agreements will end up writing one for themselves that is WORSE than the one their husband’s attorney would draft for them. Without some sort of knowledge of the law, or how things are typically handled, how do you know whether you’re writing yourself a good deal—or signing away your rights to things you worked hard to help earn?
I don’t tell you this to scare you, or even to make you reconsider your decision to try to do it yourself. I think do it yourselfers are great, and I’ve seen lots of good results achieved this way. I do, though, want to make you a little bit nervous so that you take the time to do the research and get the information you need to draft a good agreement for yourself.
It’s not enough to get divorced; you need to walk away from your marriage with your marital share of the assets. Right? It’s not about getting EVERYTHING (which, honestly, really isn’t even possible). It’s about getting your fair share. Getting back what you helped earn. Giving yourself the tools you need to get back on track and have the best, freshest brand new start possible.
And you’ve got one shot to get it right. Once you sign an agreement, there’s no going back. There’s no saying, “Oh, I didn’t understand,” or “I misunderstood what it meant,” or “But he told me it was only temporary.” You’re an adult, and you have the capacity to read and understand agreements. You understand that signing something creates a binding contract. It gives you certain rights and obligations. You know that when you sign it.
Besides that, the court can’t really just go around overturning agreements just because someone feels they got a fair deal. By encouraging contracts, courts encourage people to settle disputes on their own, rather than relying on the court. By enforcing contracts, courts encourage people to rely on contracts. If courts overturned them all over the place, we’d be petitioning courts to decide issues we could decide for ourselves right and left.
All of that to say that you get one shot at the best agreement possible.
If you still want more, or you’re ready to take the next step, consider attending one of our divorce seminars. We teach them on the second Saturday of each month in both Virginia Beach and Newport News, and on the third Tuesday of the month in Virginia Beach. It’s a great way to get information directly from one of our divorce attorneys—because each seminar is taught by one! You can ask your questions and get the information you need to decide what to do next.
For more information, visit our site by clicking here.
If you’re ready to talk to an attorney one-on-one, we can help you with that, too! To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.