DIY Divorce: Do You Really Need A Lawyer?

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Couples who don't wish to have their issues decided in the courtroom have a few different options.
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Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

When any serious relationship ends, it can take a heavy emotional toll on both parties. When a marriage ends, however, it’s not as simple as moving out and moving on with your life. There are a lot of formal processes to work through before you and your spouse are officially divorced in the eyes of the law, and as many people know, it can be incredibly complicated and bitter.

In traditional divorce proceedings, one spouse files a divorce complaint with their local court against the other, citing grounds such as adultery, abandonment, cruelty, or irreconcilable differences. The complaint is served to the other spouse, who then has the opportunity to file a counterclaim. From there the couple appears before a judge, usually with their lawyers, to settle their affairs and determine things like asset division, alimony, and child custody.

The problem is that divorces are a public court matter in most jurisdictions. Unless you and your spouse ask the court to seal your divorce records – which is ultimately up to the judge – the details of your case could easily make their way into the public record. If someone (let’s say, for example, a new love interest) runs a background check on you, they may find some things about your divorce that you’d rather not have revealed.

The easiest way to avoid divorce court is to not get divorced at all; although you and your spouse may agree that your romantic relationship is over, you may be satisfied with a legal separation, especially if you have complicated tax, business, or insurance benefits situations. However, if either of you wants to remarry in the future, the only option is to have your marriage terminated by the state.

If you and your soon-to-be ex are on civil, speaking terms with each other, it may be possible to come to an agreement outside the courtroom and keep your divorce relatively private. When done through the proper channels, you and your spouse may not even have to get a judge or expensive lawyers involved at all.

Taking A “Do-It-Yourself” Approach To Divorce

Couples who don’t wish to have their issues decided in the courtroom have a few different options, according to DivorceNet:

1. Divorce mediation. You and your spouse work with a mediator to negotiate a legally binding divorce agreement that works best for both of you.
2. Collaborative divorce. You and your spouse each hire an attorney, and through a series of “four-way” meetings, a divorce agreement is reached.
3. Arbitration. An arbitrator, or private judge, is hired to help you and your spouse legally settle your affairs in an informal setting.

Although specific divorce laws vary from state to state, it’s important to remember that ultimately, a judge must grant an official divorce decree and file it with the state. There will still be a public record showing that you are divorced; the difference is, these “no court” divorce options mean everything is decided and settled before the paperwork reaches the judge for approval, and no details of your settlement will appear in a public records search.

What’s Right For You And Your Spouse?

Unfortunately, the above methods will only work if both parties agree to settle out of court. If your spouse is determined to bring your case before a judge, you can’t force them not to file a complaint.

These “DIY” methods will also not be effective if you’re unable to come to an amicable agreement on your issues. In this case, it’s probably best to go through a traditional court divorce – but remember, your court records (and the nasty details) could come back to haunt you in the future.

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