Does Your DIY Divorce Settlement Cover Enough?

You and your former spouse get along well enough to negotiate, but not well enough to stay married. You have hashed out who gets what and how the children will be taken care of. It may be tempting to skip the law office and head straight to the courthouse. But will the judge understand what you want to do? Will your divorce decree provide you, your former spouse, and the professionals in your life enough guidance to move forward with your affairs? In short, does your DIY divorce settlement cover enough?

In this blog post, I will discuss several of the top issues with DIY divorce settlements. I will explain why having a lawyer prepare your documents helps, even when you and your former spouse are on good terms. Finally I will explain what to do if your DIY divorce settlement didn’t cover everything it should.

Common Mistakes in DIY Divorce Settlements

Every DIY project has a moment when you wonder if you should have called in a professional. Divorce is no different. Tight finances and easy access to the Internet have lead to a growing number of couples trying to handle their divorces themselves. You have the right to represent yourself in court. But are you really able to do it yourself? Here are some common mistakes DIY'ers make when reaching their own settlements.

Skipping Specific Parenting Time Schedules

Many couples choose to skip hiring a lawyer because they are on good terms and can work everything out themselves. This feeling of cooperation most often shows up when parents skip listing specific parenting time schedules. Minnesota law allows for either party to request a specific parenting time schedule. But if nobody asks for it, the Court can enter a divorce settlement that doesn't say when mom will have the children or where dad will drop them off.

When times are good, this unspecified parenting time can be great. It allows for flexibility and keeps parents from arguing over the details during the divorce process. But over time, the lack of details could cause ongoing tension between the couples. In the long run, it is easier to set a specific parenting time schedule that allows for flexibility when needed, rather than skipping the schedule only to find out you need it later.

Saying Who Gets What, But Not When or How

It is common for DIY divorce settlements to lay out who gets what property, without instructions on when or how that will be done. This most often comes up when one spouse is taking the house or if the parties need to divide a large bank account or retirement asset.

Divorce settlements and decrees aren't just between spouses. They also provide instruction to the professionals who help you manage your life. Including instructions for when the 401k will be divided, or how the house will be refinanced or listed for sale helps to guide those professionals to make sure both parties walk away with the property they expected.

Forgetting Assets or Debts

Maybe the most common mistake in DIY divorce settlements is in leaving out assets, property rights, or debts. Couples handling their divorce themselves may think they "don't have anything" and can skip this part of their divorce decree. But by failing to list their debts or account for certain property interests, they could be significantly affecting their rights down the road. Some of the most common omissions include:

  • Credit card debt (which can allow a creditor to come after the second spouse if the first doesn't pay)
  • Tax deductions for the minor child (which can cause the whole family to pay more in taxes)
  • Personal property (including jewelry, clothing, and other personal effects)

Hiring a Lawyer Doesn't Have to Cause Conflict

Some couples hoping for a quick and easy divorce skip the lawyer's office because they don't want to cause more conflict. It is true that some lawyers can increase the tension between the parties and make the experience worse for all involved. However, a family lawyer trained in collaborative divorce strategies knows that causing conflict now only means you are less likely to be happy with your divorce settlement in years to come.

Depending on your situation, one spouse may hire a lawyer to help you work through the issues and draft up documents that cover everything they should. In other cases, you may be better served bringing on a collaborative law team to help you negotiate a lasting divorce settlement that addresses the whole family's needs. Either way, a collaborative divorce lawyer can help you complete the divorce process without causing more conflict.

Correcting the Errors in your DIY Divorce Decree

Unfortunately, many couples don't realize there is a problem with their DIY divorce settlement until long after the divorce decree is entered and the case is closed. If you can't refinance the house or you find yourselves fighting over parenting time, you may need to revisit your settlement to correct the errors in your DIY divorce decree. There are a few ways you can do that:

  • Meet with a mediator to resolve your property dispute outside of court.
  • Work through family dispute resolution to create a schedule that works and a plan to resolve future conflict.
  • File a motion with the court to "amend" your divorce decree to fill the gaps and correct the errors.

Hiring an experienced family lawyer, especially one with collaborative training and certification, can help you be sure your DIY divorce settlement can stand the test of time. Kimberly Miller is a certified collaborative law practitioner. She puts her focus on techniques to help you and your spouse resolve your marriage while minimizing conflict and keeping you out of court unnecessarily. If you would like to learn more about the collaborative process, please contact Kimberly.

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