We’re Agreeing on Everything so Do I Need an Attorney?

divorce judgmentBy Matt Allen

Editor, DadsDivorce.com

The time has come and you can see the writing on the wall. The marriage just isn’t working anymore. You don’t hate each other, you’re just growing apart and the best thing for the family is to just move on to a new phase in life.

It won’t be a nasty divorce, you tell yourself. The process has been amicable and you think, “This will be an uncontested divorce so it should be quick and inexpensive.”

Cordell & Cordell attorney Richard Coffee said when he hears this, his response is, “It may end up being an agreed or settled, but there is almost always something that is contested, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be seeking legal advice on divorce.”

Coffee said then he and his client will go through all the marital property and marital debt issues and dispel some of the child custody assumptions with the client reaching the realization that quick and inexpensive is in proportion to how much the client is willing to give up.

The problem is a divorce is not the only thing you have to do in the divorce process.

There are mortgages to refinance, credit card bills to negotiate, parenting time schedules to write, spousal support and child support orders to prepare, tax filings to coordinate, and indemnification agreements to execute, not to mention the motions, orders, court appearances and judgments or decrees to handle, said Jennifer Paine, another Cordell & Cordell attorney.

“These are the details that are easily overlooked or brushed aside in pursuit of a cheap divorce,” Paine said. “But remember, you are divorcing your spouse for a reason. If you cannot agree now, what makes you think, a year from now, she will agree to refinance your home loan?”

Often, parties in a divorce will draft their own divorce agreement thinking they have everything covered. If they had an attorney review their agreement, they would learn that they have an agreement on the issues that they discussed, but forgot to address other issues, according to Angela Foy, an attorney located in the Milwaukee, Wis., office of Cordell & Cordell.

“Then parties that divorced on their own need to change something, address something that was forgotten, or correct a mistake,” Foy said. “It is often so much more difficult and more expensive to correct something that easily could have been done right the first time.”

For instance, a divorce is entered as a judgment in a court, and statutes strictly govern when and how judgments can be reopened. Some mistakes are particularly costly. Leave out an asset accidentally, and you could be facing contempt charges.

Foy said all states have “no fault” divorce, but do not have “no fault” corrections, revisions, or modifications. So when you have to return to court about what is actually at issue, you will have to fight about whose fault it is that it was not correct the first time and assigning costs and attorney fees accordingly.

“Courts view misrepresentations very seriously, and it can be difficult to prove after the fact that the mistake was innocent or incidental, when one party benefited from the mistake,” Foy said. “In most jurisdictions, property divisions are final as of the date of the divorce; they cannot be modified after the fact. Waivers of maintenance or alimony may be permanent, and those provisions cannot be changed. These more permanent provisions eliminate options that might have been available during the divorce itself.”

These are details a good divorce attorney does not overlook.

The cheap, amicable, uncontested divorce could turn out to be costly.

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3 comments on “We’re Agreeing on Everything so Do I Need an Attorney?

    I live in Georgia and our divorce was supposed to be amicable. It’s not. I’m being left with the rent on the house that I can’t afford while she gets to live at her parents and save all monies coming to her to get her a house. She will have to share the 1 room with both my children. Instead of leaving items in the house we agreed she could eventually have she is putting them in storage leaving me without quite a few essential items. Hair brush, couch, rugs, picture frames, the kids bedroom sets, which she is putting them in storage. So when they visit me, they have the extra trauma of not have their own bedroom the way it was. I stupidly agreed that she can go to her parents with the kids, I didn’t realize she would be putting everything of theirs in storage. I need a room set for when they come to visit. Now I see all she is taken and realized it was a mistake. I haven’t signed any paperwork on any of this. What do I do?

    If you can’t afford an attorney, contact your state’s bar association for help locating low- or no-cost legal services you. But please have an attorney in some form. This cannot be emphasized enough.

    Handling a case pro se is extremely risky. Our rights to our children are constitutional rights. The procedures in the family division of the circuit court may seem simple and children-oriented, but they are complicated. The mistakes you make can have lasting, non-modifiable consequences.

    This article may be true, but obviously your company has a financial interest in divorces. People doing them themselves takes away from your business. Your opinion on the issue is definitely biased somewhat.

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