In the current economy, many couples are searching for cheap, fast ways to process their divorces. With access to the internet, spouses have found online websites offering divorce packages and forms to "do it yourself". LegalZoom is one such service. In the interest of saving time and money, people are sometimes willing to compromise, and without more understanding of the law, they often don't realize they could be compromising their legal rights.
Most people have a tendency to underestimate the work that goes into preparation for divorce proceedings. Achieving a fair and equitable divorce requires a great deal more than simply printing off forms. Low-cost divorce websites and other such services reinforce the public opinion that legal processes such as divorce or estate planning may easily be accomplished by generating simple forms. But, if a consumer is considering the use of such services, one should carefully read the service provider's disclaimer - the "fine print". In the case of LegalZoom, the service provider is not acting as an attorney, does not review the documents the buyer prepares for compliance or legal sufficiency and does not guarantee that the documents are accurate or correct. Also, considering that divorce laws and procedures vary by state and are frequently revised, it is possible that forms on online websites are not up to date on each state's current requirements.
Preparing legal documents without the benefit of a legal opinion may result in unintended consequences that could be even more costly to correct in the future. At JHDJ Law, we receive a number of calls from prospective clients who for various reasons chose not to have representation in the interest of saving money and then received unfavorable court orders. Unfortunately, the cost to appeal or attempt to modify an unfavorable order is usually 2-3 times the average cost to retain a divorce attorney at the beginning of the proceedings.
Using "vanilla" or "boilerplate" forms from an online website may also restrict the flexibility you have to divide assets or deal with custody, parenting time and child support issues. The documents may not adequately address all issues you and your spouse have. While there are common processes to any divorce, each marriage is unique and the terms that you and your spouse need to divide your property and protect your children are specific to your situation. For instance, perhaps you are upside down in your mortgage and need a creative solution written into a settlement agreement. Or, you work nontraditional schedules and need more flexibility with parenting time versus standard guidelines. In many situations, online forms only address standard scenarios, with vague language. An attorney or mediator can help you draft a settlement agreement that best suits your family's needs.
There are certainly ways to minimize legal fees and maintain control over the terms of your divorce. At JHDJ Law, we encourage spouses to avoid litigation and to consider alternatives such as mediation or collaborative law. Both are less expensive than traditional divorce litigation, but each alternative method still provides a structured, legal process to address issues and work out detailed terms - removing the guess work from spouses who are already struggling with the emotional and financial difficulties of their marital issues. There are many areas in your life where a DIY approach can be cost saving - but divorce shouldn't be one of them.