Legalese – DIY Divorce

legaleseDivorce is never a good thing. It severs familial ties and even under the (relatively) best of circumstances is sad and difficult. In the best case scenario, the couples recognize the sad reality that divorce is best, but they both behave like mature grownups. This involves recognizing that the person you are fighting with is the person who, once upon a time, you looked in the eyes and thought, “You. Of all the people on planet Earth, you are the one I want to wake up next to every morning for the rest of my life.”

Often, when people get along relatively well and can work out all the issues between them, they try to do the paperwork for an uncontested divorce themselves. While there are people who have managed this successfully, it is extremely difficult, especially if there are children involved.

The first uncontested divorce I handled for someone was, as divorces go, amicable and easy. The couple had no children or pets together. In fact, they had been separated for ten years and hadn’t laid eyes on each other in about eight. They had no joint property or shared debt. I thought, foolishly, “This will be easy!” I was absolutely stunned by how much paperwork was required. I needed a petition and verification, financial affidavits from both parties, an acknowledgement of service, an acknowledgement of representation, a waiver of discovery and agreement to try at first term, a settlement agreement, a final judgment and decree incorporating the settlement agreement, and an affidavit in lieu of testimony. Oh yeah, and a case filing information form and a report of divorce.

And that’s with no children involved. With children, you also need a child support worksheet (with the numbers matching to the penny those on the financial affidavits); a child support addendum (again with matching numbers); and a parenting plan.

There is also the requirement of triplicate copies of everything (one for you, one for the court, and one for him). This adds up to nearly a ream of paper to get this done. They all have a proper sequence and time requirements.

You can argue to me all day long that lawyers have overcomplicated this process in order to keep themselves in business, and I won’t have much comeback. I am not a legislator, and I don’t make the rules. I’m just here to tell you what they are. And they are precise and complicated.

There are ways to successfully manage this yourself. Most counties have online forms you can use for fill-in-the blanks. The DeKalb Family Law Information Center is my personal favorite, as the forms are arranged in packages based on type of action. However, the important thing to remember is that despite what your eyeballs are showing to your brain, these forms are not written in English, they are written in Legalese. So what you write in may or may not actually mean what you think it means. A good bit of my practice is trying to undo or fix the messes people inadvertently make for themselves. A lot of things are technically correct but inadvisable, and it is a good idea to get advice from someone who has seen the repercussions of what you are trying to do. Most lawyers have a relatively inexpensive consultation fee. At the very least, to save litigation down the line, have a lawyer review what you did. I cannot in good conscience recommend that you do this without a lawyer, but if you are going to, at the very least have a consultation. It will save you lots of grief and aggravation in the long run.

This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.

About Lori Duff 352 Articles
Lori is the author of the bestselling collection of humor essays, "Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza" currently available exclusively on Amazon. In order to finance her writing habit, she is a practicing lawyer with Jones & Duff, LLC. She is married to Mike Duff, who is a retired DeKalb County Public Safety Officer, and has two amazing children who make cameo embarrassing appearances in her blog posts and who attend Walton County Public Schools. Her legal column, "Legalese", is meant to de-mystify and humanize the Court system. When asked about her writing, Lori says, "Life is too short not to laugh at every available opportunity. My goal is to make myself laugh -- and hopefully you will laugh along with me."
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