‘Do-it-yourself’ divorce is generally a bad idea

wedding-2Recently, a number of companies have been trying to persuade people that they can save money by handling their divorce on their own. These companies sell packets of generic forms in books or on the Internet, claiming that they were developed by “expert” attorneys and that they’re all you need.

Buyer beware! While these forms might be accepted by a divorce court, they’re not tailored to your specific situation, and the companies do not provide legal advice to protect you.

If you know someone who’s thinking of a “do-it-yourself” divorce, ask them these questions:

• Do you know if you’re entitled to a share of your spouse’s pension, IRA, 401(k) plan, or stock options? Do you understand the highly technical requirements you must comply with to obtain these benefits? (A “divorce kit” generally won’t help you with this.)

• If you’re splitting up property, are you aware of all the tax consequences? Many people have been surprised after a divorce with a large and unnecessary capital gains or other tax bill. (A divorce kit won’t give you tax advice, either.)

• How can you be sure that your spouse doesn’t have assets that he or she isn’t telling you about?

• If your spouse promises to pay you money, and doesn’t follow through – or files for bankruptcy – how will you be protected?

• Do you know how to re-title property in separate names in a way that provides legal safeguards? Do you know every type of beneficiary designation that need to be changed?

• Do you know what changes need to be made to your estate plan after the divorce, and how the divorce will affect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, and other benefits?

• If you have children, will they be fully protected if your circumstances change in the future, or if your spouse’s circumstances change? What if they incur large expenses in the future, such as for medical problems or college tuition? What if your ex dies unexpectedly – have you mandated life insurance?

The truth is that the legal and financial implications of even the most simple, uncontested divorce can be profound, and the legal consequences of doing a divorce on the cheap with an online kit can be very costly indeed.