The economy is down, but the divorce rate continues to rise. Unfortunately, this means many people are making the ill-fated decision to represent themselves in their own divorce action just to save money. There are many, many reasons why you can’t afford to go it alone. Here are just a few:
1. You don’t realize that you’re missing critical negotiating points.
It’s early April. You have put off doing your taxes for long enough. Before you start claiming the dependency exemption or interest deduction on the mortgage, you might want to call your former spouse to see if she has already done so. Of course she has. Perhaps if you had known you could leverage the exemption into bargaining power, you could have (1) received a more substantial tax refund for the year and (2) avoided the inevitable argument about who gets to claim it next year and the following year and following year…
This is but one minor example. In the rush to get things done, most people representing themselves forget to include some very important things in the settlement agreement. This does everyone a disservice as it will inevitably result in heated arguments in the future. Avoid the dreaded “prolonged litigation” by doing it right the first time. An attorney who routinely drafts and negotiates marital settlement agreements can help.
2. You will lose the forest for the trees.
Consider the following example:
“I will take the blue pot, and you can have the red one,” you say innocently enough.
“No! Those nasty, crusted, old pots are my grandmother’s heirlooms and you can’t have any of them! You never cooked a day in your life! You don’t get anything in the kitchen, and I hate you and…” your spouse replies.
“You hate me? You’re the one who had the affair! I’m taking the dogs!” you scream and run out the door.
Unfortunately, exchanges like the one above are all too common when people are in the throes of a divorce. The truth of the matter is, divorce is not about pots and pans. A divorce is a business decision. Attorneys simply don’t have the time to engage in trivial disputes, but they can help you handle the major financial decisions that need to be made. They can help determine whether you have a non-marital interest in the house, how much money you should receive from your spouse’s retirement account, who should assume the debt on the vehicles, etc.
Don’t get trapped in your emotions. You’ll need a therapist to get you through the rough patches. You’ll need an attorney to get you through the legal process.
3. You don’t know how to calculate child support.
Yes, there are Guidelines and worksheets available online. However, there are subtle nuances that only an attorney well-versed in the Kentucky statutes on this topic can expose and use to your benefit. For example, if you and your spouse deviate from the “traditional” parenting schedule model so that both parents have the children 50% of the time, yet you adhere strictly to the Guidelines, you are probably overpaying child support. If you believe your spouse is underreporting his income for purposes of calculating child support, you need an attorney to conduct discovery and issue subpoenas to uncover this fact for the Court to see.
4. You don’t know how to calculate maintenance or whether you’re even entitled to it.
This issue of maintenance is one of the most hotly debated issues in the entire divorce field. It is also completely up to the Judge to decide whether a party should receive maintenance, and if so, how much. You are extremely better off settling this aspect of your case without having to go to trial. Setting an appropriate amount of maintenance requires a thorough examination of many factors, including the length of the marriage, each party’s respective incomes, the recipient party’s level of education, how much property and debt each party was assigned in the overall settlement, etc.
Judges across the state are all over the board when it comes to maintenance. Some Judges simply do not award maintenance. Some Judges consistently award a large amount of maintenance. There are a significant amount of variables that go into play when setting maintenance. The maintenance statute is broad and the case law is vague. This is one area where you simply cannot afford to do it yourself or let the Judge decide.
5. You don’t know how to effectively litigate the issue of custody.
Contrary to popular belief, custody hearings aren’t simply mud-slinging contests. The Court has little patience for parties who just point fingers, print off Facebook posts, submit stacks of unorganized text messages, and throw around wild accusations. If you aren’t represented by an attorney, you won’t know all of the tools at your disposal for proving your case. Having a trained mental health professional evaluate all of the parties and the children and report their findings to the Court is generally a productive way of resolving custody disputes. There are many other tools that a knowledgeable attorney can employ to convince the Court that a change in custody either is or is not in the best interests of the children.
There are a host of other reasons why hiring an attorney to represent your interests is not only a good idea, but a smart decision that benefits everyone in the end. Even if your spouse does not retain an attorney, your own counsel can help guide both of you through the process and, hopefully, resolve all issues without much of the counter-productive contentiousness that so often plagues pro se litigation.
Goldberg Simpson, LLC has one of the most highly recognized Family Law teams in the state. Every team member has the knowledge and skill to assist you through the legal process. Partner Mitchell A. Charney is consistently ranked among Louisville’s Top Lawyers in Louisville Magazine. He and partner Troy D. DeMuth and are both Fellows of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, an organization comprised of the best divorce attorneys in the nation. In addition to Charney and DeMuth, partners Stephanie L. Morgan-White and Callie E. Walton are also skilled attorneys and trained mediators. Partner John H. Helmers, Jr. has a wealth of knowledge in nearly all aspects of the law, including family law, personal injury, and criminal defense. Along with Charney, he was also rated a Super Lawyer for having attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.