Monday, May 27, 2013

Choosing Between Collaborative Law and Do-It-Yourself Forms

There has been a lot of interest in people doing divorces by using do-it-yourself forms.  It's obviously a way to save a lot of money.  It can also be a fast way to get a case completed, if everything goes well.

The DIY approach doesn't work well if the divorce is hotly contested.  In that case, at least one party will hire an attorney and that means that the other party needs to hire one.

There is a pretty big middle ground existing between the "everything is agreed" cases and the "many things are contested" cases.  For those cases, people can choose between  DIY or using lawyers.  For this post, I won't go into a discussion of Collaborative versus litigation.  Admittedly, I am biased in favor of Collaborative Law, but I will try to be fairly objective comparing Collaborative to using do-it-yourself forms.

1.  Using Collaborative Law will cost a lot more than DIY.  Naturally, using two lawyers and the other professionals will be expense that wouldn't occur if you just do your own forms.

2.  The forms may be good if the facts are simple and limited and the terms are agreed.  The Texas Supreme Court's forms are already being misused for cases that aren't meant to be covered.  The forms don't deal with many issues that are common in divorces.  In the right case, however, they could be a great fit.

3.  There are many circumstances in which forms will likely be a problem.  Here are some of them:
  • If you want customized visitation;
  • If you want non-standard child support;
  • If there's separate property;
  • If there are complex property issues, such as
    • a family business,
    • a professional practice,
    • retirement accounts,
    • stock options, 
    • reimbursement issues, or
    • deferred compensation, among  other things;
  • If there are tax issues;
  • If alimony is requested or needed;
  • If there's real estate; or 
  • If you want to make creative use of various kinds of insurance, among other things.
4.   Other documents may be needed.  If there's real estate, you may need a deed, deed of trust or a lien note.  There may need to be car title changes.  A qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) may be needed to divide up a retirement account.  There could be other documents needed as well.  They usually don't come with divorce forms.

5.  Using forms, you don't get legal guidance through the process.  You miss out on strategy, creative solutions to problems and tax considerations.  You are just on your own.

If you look at the comments above, you can see that they don't really have much effect on really simple cases.  If that's what you have, then maybe forms can work for you.  On the other hand, you may be missing something and may create major, expensive problems by using DIY forms.  If you have any doubts about whether the forms will work for you, have a consultation with a Collaborative attorney to find out if the Collaborative model would benefit you or if you might succeed on your own with forms.

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