We’ve been known to tell people in the past that getting a divorce is kind of like cutting your hair: sure, you CAN do it without the help of a professional—but you might not like the results. And with a divorce, you’ll have to live with the results a lot longer.
That said, times change. There are options that lie somewhere between having an attorney handle every aspect of your divorce and going it completely alone. To continue the haircut analogy, if all you need is a straightforward trim, and you have the right tools and some advice from a pro, you can do just fine, and save some money, too.
But saving money is only worth it if you get the process, and especially the outcome, you need. Let’s talk about some mistakes to avoid in a DIY divorce.
On the one hand, you’re online right now, reading about divorce, so we recognize that the internet isn’t necessarily a bad place to get some information—at least initially. But remember the saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” In other words, you might learn just enough to think you know enough to go it alone.
In fact, you probably can learn enough online to complete a divorce without any further help. The catch is that while your marriage might be ended, you might end up with fewer rights or more obligations in divorce than you should have. So get started online—and learn enough to know where and when you might need guidance.
By the time you’ve come to the point of seeking a divorce, you are already ready for your marriage to be over. Even if you didn’t want a divorce that your spouse initiated, the anxiety of the process may make you willing to agree to anything, just to have it over.
Unfortunately, if you rush into an agreement, you will probably have plenty of time to look back on with regret. The divorce process lasts for an uncomfortable, but brief time; the divorce decree that governs your rights and responsibilities in divorce may last forever. Resist the temptation to cave into your spouse’s demands just to have things over with. Buyers remorse is real.
This mistake is related to the previous one. You may be more likely to give into your spouse’s pressure to settle if you believe you can later modify your divorce decree. While some provisions of a divorce decree can be modified (ie. custody, parenting time, support), others cannot. And even if a provision can be modified, it is almost never easy to do so. Trying to modify a divorce decree is time-consuming, costly, and ultimately, may be unsuccessful. It’s much wiser to take the time to negotiate an agreement that works for you before your divorce is final.
Minnesota is an equitable distribution state, meaning that marital property gets divided in divorce in a way that is fair under all the circumstances. In practice, that’s usually about 50/50. You and your spouse will probably aim for a roughly equal split of property. But remember that property with an equivalent value may not be equivalent.
For instance, a car worth $50,000 will depreciate over time, being worth steadily less. Stocks valued at the same amount may appreciate or depreciate. Some assets carry a tax burden; others produce income. Some do both.. It’s important to know not only the value of your property settlement at the time of your divorce, but how it will affect you financially in the future.
If you have kids, figuring out how to divide their time between you and your spouse may be a sticking point. Many couples decide to resolve this issue by dividing the children’s time equally between them on a 2/2/5/5 schedule. This is certainly an option, and it may seem fair to you and your spouse. But the real question is, is it the best option for your children? It’s usually a little more work to devise the parenting time schedule that is most comfortable for your kids. Helping them cope with the disruption your divorce has caused them is worth the extra time and attention to the details of a good parenting schedule.
If either you or your spouse makes much more than the other, you may be thinking about alimony. Alimony, called spousal support in Minnesota, can help one spouse get back on their feet financially after a divorce. But you should think about what you hope to achieve with alimony (support a long-term spouse indefinitely? Give a stay-at-home parent time to train for work and become self-supporting?) and tailor it accordingly.
Think about how much spousal support is needed to achieve those goals, how long it should go on, whether you want the court to be able to modify it in the future, and under what circumstances it should terminate (ie. retirement age). And remember that recent federal tax law affected alimony: alimony payments are no longer deductible to the payor, or taxable as income to the recipient.
Just because you’ve decided to DIY your divorce doesn’t mean that you can’t get some help if you need it. As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, sometimes you just need a little help from a professional, not the whole package. Depending on your needs, our office offers limited-scope representation that could include a consultation to make sure you’re on the right track or document review or preparation.
If you have further questions about DIY divorce in Minnesota, please contact Mundahl Law to learn how you can get the answers you need (without the big legal fees that you don’t).