By Don Schweitzer, Certified Family Law Attorney
There is no project too big or too difficult that one can’t take on using their own set of “tools.” Do It Yourself (DIY) guides on anything from complicated French pastries to building and installing home solar panels provide those ready to get their hands dirty with a list of materials and step-by-step instructions on how to execute the project to completion. In turn, doing a project on your own can save you the cost of hiring a professional from that field.
Some folks have taken a plunge at another level of DIY: the legal world. Guides on how to establish a corporation, file a trademark, to dissolving a marriage are also readily available. However, I advise those willing to take on the legal world to proceed with extreme caution, especially as it pertains to divorce.
While I do give kudos to those who have the patience and willingness to navigate family law and adapt boilerplate divorce templates to save money, the truth is the devil is in the details and poorly written judgments could backfire.
Recently, I received a divorce case from the court of appeal where previous to the appeal, a couple used a mediator to dissolve their marriage, in hopes that the process would save them money. While mediators can be helpful in navigating the divorce process, it’s still advisable for each party to have his and her own divorce attorney review the judgment. In this particular case, the mediator prepared a poorly written judgment with conflicting provisions, which created issues in the trial court. If a mediator–a trained legal professional–is capable of mucking up legal divorce documents, then what about a DIY person who is unfamiliar with the family court system? What resulted in this case was an appeal trial with a legal bill that amounted to 10 times the amount the couple would have paid had they used family law attorneys from the onset.
The other type of divorce “DIYer” I’ve encountered is the person who thinks that he has an “easy” divorce. While it’s possible that a couple that was not married very long, had no assets, children or money can fit the description of an “easy” divorce, there are key issues that can lead to a contested divorce; i.e., a divorce where the two parties cannot agree. Here are some questions to consider: Do you own property or have assets? Are there children involved? Is there disparity in income? Are there any hints to potential disagreements? If you’ve answered “yes” to at least one of these questions, then I would advise against a DIY divorce.
On the surface, the agreements you negotiate with your soon-to-be ex-spouse may sound “fair,” but realistically, “fairly” dividing up assets, negotiating child custody, and child and spousal support is complicated to calculate on one’s own. In fact, the family court uses its own system that takes into consideration household income, quality of life, and the child’s best interest to determine child support costs. I’d venture to say one would be making a grave mistake executing a DIY divorce when children and assets are involved. What’s more, family law attorneys have a trained eye for looking at the bigger picture and advocating for your best interest.
While macarons, building robots and remodeling your kitchen are a DIYer’s “do,” a divorce in most cases is a definite DIY don’t.
Don Schweitzer is founder and partner of The Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer, based in Pasadena. As a Certified Family Law Specialist and former District Attorney, he has extensive background in domestic violence, divorce and child custody issues. Prior to becoming an attorney, Mr. Schweitzer was a Police Officer for approximately 10 years. He is an active member of the Pasadena Bar Association, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, American Bar Association, and the California State Bar; and a recent contributor to Los Angeles Lawyer.