Divorcing Without a Lawyer Could Cost You Big Money $$$

I just read an article on MSN which said that the average cost for one party to divorce in Michigan is $10,400.00. We have all heard horror stories from friends, family and complete strangers of people paying astronomical attorney fees to get divorced. So, by eliminating the attorney, the problem will go away, right? Well by having no attorney, you avoid attorney fees that much is true, but you may be….

Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water.

When people do their own divorce, they often obtain forms for legal documents by purchasing kits, books or obtaining the forms online. I have read many of these forms and find them to be very good. The problem with do it yourself forms is that they are often one size fits all. In other words, the forms may not fit your situation. A form is just a blueprint. You must know how to read the blueprint, or you may be building the wrong house. With legal forms, changing just one word can change the parties’ intent and the result.

Also, when you represent yourself, the court expects you to know the law and the court procedures. Lay people who proceed without lawyers generally expect that the Court will do things for them. Guess who wins the battle of these competing expectations? Well, the Court, of course. Before COVID, when I was in Court, I would often see judges or their clerks telling people that their paperwork is not right, or they did not timely file this or that and the people are sent on their way to fix the problem. (This still happens after COVID, but the Court generally keeps us in their waiting room while they handle other case matters, so we do not personally witness it). By the puzzled look on the persons’ faces you know they have no idea of what to do. When lay persons attempt to get answers, they are told, “we cannot give you legal advice.” I have represented clients who previously filed for divorce 2 or 3 times only to have their case dismissed every time because the right paperwork was missing, or they did not know what to do to complete their case. These client’s had to re-pay filing fees (which cost hundreds of dollars) and had to restart their waiting period before they could be divorced. But this money loss pales in comparison to ….

What You Do Not Know Can Hurt You. Ok, what is the most important document to be drafted in a divorce? The Judgment of Divorce itself. What is a Judgment of Divorce? It is the contract between the spouses of the terms of how to end their marriage and divide their assets and liabilities. This Judgment contract covers the payment or non-payment of alimony, the division of bonuses, it covers how the real estate (houses, 2nd homes, vacation homes, cottages, time shares, cemetery plots, etc.) and other property (cars, bank accounts, retirement benefits, life insurance benefits, annuities, stocks, stock options, mutual funds, health insurance for the parties, businesses, computers, etc.) , are divided. If there are children it covers child support, parenting time and custody and everything related thereto. It may cover the payment of college costs, cars, car insurance, health care insurance for adult children.

It has been my experience that 95% of the population are totally unaware of their property rights in a divorce. About that same percentage have no idea how to divide and transfer major assets. Most people have no idea of Michigan Custody and Child Support law nor what language concerning custody and support must be in a Divorce Judgment. In fact, it is safe to say that most people have never written a contract in their entire life. But for some reason, when it comes to their divorce, people decide they are going to write their first contract under their misguided belief that this will save them money.

People Who Do Their Own Divorce Are Often Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish.

In trying to fix do-it-yourself divorce clients’ attempts to transfer reals estate, I have seen multiple cases where the equity in the home has been paid out to one spouse and but the spouse’s interest in real estate was not transferred to the purchaser. I have seen awards of pension interests, but no provisions or improper provisions for the transfer of the interest. Did you know if you do not have the right language in a Judgment your ex-spouse may still have the right to seek alimony in the future or modify the alimony paid to increase the payments? These mistakes can literally cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Recently, I have saved my clients, $50,000; $80,000 and countless sums of additional alimony by re-writing their Judgments. I was paid a small fraction of the money I saved them for my services. But had my divorce advice not been sought, their decision not to use a lawyer to “save money” could have resulted in substantial financial loss.

Michigan Law Allows Affordable Use of Attorneys in Divorce.

So, what if you are a do-it-yourselfer who has started and divorce or who is about to start a divorce and you believe there are parts of the process that you can handle it by yourself or have already handled? Or after starting the process and running into trouble, you believe that you may need some legal help, but you do not want to pay or cannot afford to pay for a full-service lawyer? You might have made some calls and either the retainer or the estimates for finishing your case are beyond your budget.

You are in luck. As January 1, 2018 Michigan, see MCR 2.117B(2), now allows for Limited Scope Representation. What does that mean? Clients and lawyers can make agreements which set forth what the attorney will do and what the client will do regarding representing them in court in a legal matter. When the case is filed, you tell the Court what the client will do and what the attorney will do. In other words, the client and the attorney can share the work, if the Court knows it is a shared case and knows who should receive notices and filings concerning the case. A client can now pay only for the legal services needed and not hire a full-service attorney at a premium cost. Basically, you only order ala carte legal services instead of paying for a full 7 course meal.

In Limited Scope cases, you may only be hiring an attorney to review your paperwork and advise you how to get your case through the court process. Or you may already have an agreement with your spouse concerning all issues in the case, but you need help drafting the Judgment or taking the case through the court process. Limited Scope Representation allow you to only pay for the legal services you need thereby making divorce more affordable. If you think Limited Scope Representation would work for you, please call us to discuss your case.