Tips for Getting a Divorce Without a Lawyer

getting a divorce without a lawyer

Most divorce lawyers will tell you that getting a divorce without a lawyer is a terrible idea. Now, coming from people who make their living helping people get divorced, that advice might sound self-serving—but it’s often right. Sometimes, the money you save on legal fees isn’t saved at all, because you end up paying more or getting less in support, or you get a property settlement that turns out to be unfavorable.

So, yes: getting divorced without a lawyer can be a bad idea. But it doesn’t have to be. In the right circumstances and with the proper preparation, do-it-yourself divorce can be quick and efficient, and let you move on with your life with less expense and stress.

Note the words “in the right circumstances” and “with the proper preparation” in the paragraph above. Some situations really do call for an attorney’s help. And if you choose not to have an attorney do the heavy lifting in your divorce case, you must be prepared to do some legal research and protect your own interests. Otherwise, you may end up paying a lawyer more to try to fix a bad situation that could have been avoided had you had the right legal help from the start.

If you think you might be interested in divorce without a lawyer, read on for some DIY divorce tips.

DIY Divorce Tip #1: Make Sure DIY Divorce is Right for You.

No matter how much time or money do-it-yourself divorce might seem to save, it’s not worth it in certain situations. Here are some situations in which divorcing without a lawyer might make sense. The more of these factors you have on your side, the more likely it is that you will be able to divorce without a lawyer’s help:

  • You and your spouse are on good terms and the decision to divorce is mutual.
  • You agree on all or most of the terms of your divorce.
  • Your marriage has been brief.
  • You don’t own a lot of property together.
  • You are knowledgeable about the family finances.
  • You don’t have children together or you both already agree on a shared parenting schedule and are able to readily communicate daily about your children’s needs.
  • Neither you nor your spouse need to depend on the other for financial support.

On the other hand, there are some red flags that suggest that do-it-yourself divorce papers are a bad idea, and you would benefit from an attorney’s help:

  • Your relationship is contentious and you do not agree on the terms of your divorce.
  • One of you does not want the divorce.
  • There has been domestic violence in your relationship.
  • There are mental health or substance abuse issues in the relationship.
  • There are substantial or complex assets to divide in the divorce.
  • You do not trust your spouse to be honest, or fear they might hide assets or otherwise dispose of marital property that should be divided between you.
  • You don’t know a lot about the family finances.
  • You have minor children and disagree about how the children should spend time with each of you, or you are not confident that the children will be safe in your spouse’s custody.
  • Either you or your spouse might need financial support from the other spouse.
  • One spouse’s misconduct (such as an affair or losing a lot of money gambling) is a major cause of the divorce.
  • Your spouse has a divorce attorney.

What if, like many couples, you fall somewhere in the middle? You might be on pretty good terms, and generally agree about most of the terms of your divorce, but haven’t nailed down the details. You also have kids and you both want them to live primarily with you, and your spouse knows more about the family finances than you do.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t file divorce papers yourself, but it does mean that you will need to do more work and research to make sure your interests are protected.

DIY Divorce Tip #2: Get Your Ducks in a Row

If, after considering the above, you still think do-it-yourself divorce is the best option, you need to prepare. It’s great if you feel that your spouse is honest, but as the old Russian proverb says, “Trust, but verify.”

  • Make copies of all financial documents, including tax returns, bank statements, retirement and investment accounts, credit card accounts, pay stubs, mortgage documents, and appraisals of any valuables.
  • Prepare a list of all assets and their value.
  • Consider consulting an accountant to discuss the tax consequences of taking certain property in the divorce.
  • If you are worried your spouse might go through your mail, get a PO Box.
  • Sign a written agreement with your spouse that neither of you will transfer, spend, waste or destroy any marital assets, or make any large expenditures or incur any debt without the other person’s consent while you are working on your divorce.
  • Figure out what your living expenses are now and what they will be after divorce to make sure you know what kind of budget you will need to be on. Don’t negotiate a settlement without understanding what your future needs will be.
  • Sit down with your spouse and try to work out the details of who will receive which assets in the divorce.
  • If you have children, sit down with your spouse and try to work out a parenting time schedule.
  • Be mindful about signing an interim agreement about custody or support with your spouse since a court could later decide to continue the existing agreement.

Once you are confident you have a handle on what needs to be addressed in your divorce, go to your county court’s website and review the process for filing a divorce on your own—but don’t be afraid to seek further help if you need to, and avoid making these DIY divorce mistakes.

DIY Divorce Tip #3: Remember That DIY Doesn’t Need to Be All-or-Nothing.

Do you really need a lawyer for a divorce? The truth is, it depends. But something a lot of lawyers won’t tell you is that legal help with a divorce doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing. For example, if you and your spouse mostly agree but need a little help finalizing your agreement, mediation can help you get there. If you’ve reached an agreement, but want to be sure it protects your interests, you can hire an attorney just to review your divorce settlement agreement. You can work with an attorney just to draft your agreement so that it complies with legal requirements, or to appear with you in court. It’s really based on your needs, and there are lots of options for getting help with a do-it-yourself divorce.

If you have more questions about filing for divorce in Minnesota, or are considering getting a divorce without a lawyer, we invite you to contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation.