Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
In a Florida uncontested divorce many people decide to draft papers on their own without meeting with or hiring a lawyer. With the invention of Internet forms people often believe that their divorce will be less expensive and go faster if they do not use a lawyer. Often, this is not the case. The fact is that you would most likely not fix your transmission unless you were a mechanic and you would most likely not perform your own surgery, even if you were a surgeon. So, why is that people thinking that they will do a better or equal job to an attorney in drafting their own documents for divorce? The answer most likely boils down to expense, but what happens is that such a money saving experiment can cost you thousands of dollars in the end, and sometimes substantially more than you would have paid initially. Why? Because often parties think that they are being reasonable, but really they are creating more problems for themselves.
For example, a married couple decides to divorce. The Wife has been the primary breadwinner during the marriage and it’s a 20-year marriage. The Wife, in trying to be nice and to work things out to just get the divorce done, decides to buy Husband a house. Wife later starts making less money and realizes that she cannot afford to buy Husband a home. Once that occurs, Husband may file an action with the court to require that Wife do what was previously ordered. Husband then decides to hire an attorney since he really needs the house and needs Wife to provide it since he does not have the credit history and established income to afford a house of his own. Wife then hires an attorney because she does not want to be held in contempt by the court and honestly feels that she does not have an ability to buy a house for Husband.
In that situation, the litigation for just this issue may cost both parties substantially more than had they hired an attorney to look over their agreement initially. An attorney may have told them the problem with such an agreement is tenfold given that the Wife could not claim the house, most likely, as a tax write-off and also would need to qualify for the purchase of the home. Husband’s attorney may have told him that it was more lucrative to get the house payment in alimony and to purchase his own house. However, now they are both paying attorneys to fix what they created.
Example two is when the parties agree that one parent is going to have majority time-sharing. After they divorce, the parties then start doing a split time-sharing schedule and never effectuate the agreement in writing or modify with the court. Later, one party no longer agrees with the split time-sharing and stops it all together forcing the other party back to the original time-sharing schedule. The other parent then has to modify the prior time-sharing schedule with the court and has the burden of showing what they parents had been doing. If that parent had not paid child support while doing split time-sharing, then the other parent may, as a weapon of defense, insist on back child support payments. This may cost the parents substantial legal fees and costs for a social investigation. It may, if the party responsible for paying child support cannot prove the prior agreement, require that the parent actually pay back child support in addition to present and future support. This may not have been the case had they originally gotten with an attorney to put the agreement in writing and file it with the court.
The truth is that a lawyer can seem expensive up front, but in the long haul, the expense can be minute in comparison to what is inevitably paid to correct the agreement written by the parties. Ultimately, it makes no sense to pay in excess of $10,000 for a wedding and try to spend nothing to divide property and establish your financial stability after the marriage. If you are going through a divorce or child custody matter, then you should speak with an experienced family law attorney to understand your rights and options.