A married couple has had a candid discussion about divorce. They agree to work together in an honest and trustworthy fashion, to identify and resolve their divorce issues, and to have a do-it-yourself divorce to save time and money. Their communication is good and finances transparent.
They work together, just the two of them, without consulting family lawyers or financial advisors. Sleeves rolled up, they review their investments, tax returns, income, assets, debts, and other financials. Anticipated budgets are prepared.
Using a spreadsheet, they decide how they will split their assets and debts. They put together their child custody and parenting time plan. They figure out child support and possibly alimony payments. Then they draft their own marital settlement agreement together, without family lawyers reviewing their work.
Kudos to this couple for taking the initiative to work together to resolve their divorce issues. However, while working on the terms of the agreement, should each have sought advice from his or her own attorney?
Even though they are working together, should they each be looking out for himself or herself? While discussing terms, and definitely before signing the do-it-yourself divorce agreement, it is highly recommended that each party have his or her own divorce attorney review it. Here are some reasons why:
5 Reasons You Should Have a Lawyer Review Your Do-it-Yourself Divorce Agreement
(1) Understanding Your Legal Rights
Even if you are totally on board with the terms you and your spouse discussed, you should know and understand your legal rights with regard to the divorce issues. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights. Then, if you decide if you want to modify the proposed agreement, you can have a frank discussion with your spouse explaining the reasons for the modifications.
(2) Confirming Identification of Assets and Debts
It is possible that marital assets or debts may have been unintentionally overlooked. An attorney can help catch omitted items. Marital assets may include but are not limited to automobiles, retirement accounts, stock options, frequent flier miles, marital home equity, collectibles, personal items, bank accounts, business interests, and investment accounts.
Marital debts may include but are not limited to mortgages, loans, credit card debt and medical bills. Every situation is unique. It may take time to review and discuss your finances with an attorney and additional forms may need to be filled out. But this should help assure in a transparent situation that no items have been missed.
(3) Reviewing the Resolutions
It is great to brainstorm with your spouse and resolve divorce issues together. However, there are advantages to reviewing the resolutions with your own attorney before you sign an agreement. Upon review, your attorney might suggest adding terms. This could benefit both you and your spouse. For example, maybe your agreement did not include vacation provisions with the children, such as, whether or not a parent can take the children outside the country for vacation.
Or perhaps the attorney will identify potential problems with the terms. For example, a proposed division of specific assets may trigger a tax liability. Your attorney might suggest an alternative way to divide the assets or recommend that you consult with a tax advisor.
(4) Identifying Additional Issues
You don’t know what you don’t know. Even with the best intentions, it is possible that you and your spouse may not have addressed all of your divorce issues. After discussing your situation and reviewing your proposed agreement with your own attorney you may discover there are issues that have not been addressed.
For example, if your child is a high school junior and you live in a state that recognizes a parent’s contribution to college expenses you may want your agreement to address college costs. This can help avoid unintended surprises or a post-divorce litigation battle.
(5) Protecting Yourself
At the end of the day, you need to look out for yourself. And your spouse should look out for himself or herself. Discussing your situation with your own attorney before starting a settlement dialogue with your spouse can give you direction and focus. Or if you have already discussed settlement terms with your spouse, hiring your own family lawyer to review the proposed terms of your do-it-yourself divorce agreement can provide an extra set of eyes looking out for you in your camp.
It may also help you avoid buyer’s remorse. As mentioned earlier, you don’t know what you don’t know. You need to move forward with your life, and you should have an agreement that protects you and works for you.