Why a DIY Divorce Will Actually Cost You

do it yourself divorce

The internet has made it a lot easier to do some things yourself. Want to fix the jammed ice maker in your fridge? There’s a YouTube video for that. TikTok can teach you new recipes, and Pinterest holds an array of craft and decorating ideas. In short, there are a lot of things for which we used to pay professionals that we can now do ourselves. But should you try a do-it-yourself divorce?

The internet can demystify the process of getting a divorce. But it can’t give you all the information you need about your unique situation and how the law applies to it. Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know, and what you don’t know can cost you.

When you’re making a hedgehog cake, that may not matter so much. But the stakes are much higher with a divorce. Your divorce decree is the “private law” of your divorce, governing you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. Once it is signed by the judge it is difficult, if not impossible, to change. And if you have to live with the outcome of your divorce, you want to be sure it’s done right. That’s not something to cut corners on.

Hidden Costs of a DIY Divorce

Not Understanding Your Rights

There are a number of ways a DIY divorce can go wrong from a financial standpoint. The first is that if you are not well-versed in Utah divorce law, you may not understand all your rights and obligations. You can come up with whatever settlement agreement you wish, but how can you know if it is fair if you don’t know what your rights would be otherwise?

In one case we know of, a divorcing wife chose not to pursue her right to part of the stock options her husband was given by the small company for which he worked during the marriage. Legally, she would have been entitled to some of the stock options, but she didn’t fully understand what they were and figured that since they came from her husband’s company, they would mean more to him. Besides, the options seemed worthless to her at the time. Eager to get out of the marriage, she chose not to haggle over an asset she didn’t care about. Spoiler alert: the options were far from worthless, her husband knew it, and he and his next wife enjoyed the full benefit.

Hidden Tax Consequences

Another financial risk of a do-it-yourself divorce is ignorance of tax consequences. Tax law is complex, and it changes frequently. For instance, alimony used to be tax-deductible to the person paying it and counted as income to the person receiving it. That is no longer true. Someone who agrees to pay alimony thinking it will provide a tax benefit is in for a rude awakening next April.

There are numerous other tax issues related to divorce as well. A couple may have tax carryovers (also called carry-forwards) that could reduce income tax in future years. Who will get to claim the children on their tax return? And if you are transferring part of a qualified retirement plan to your spouse, do you know how to do so while avoiding tax penalties?

It would be impossible to discuss in a blog post every hidden tax consequence of a DIY divorce. But if you talk to an experienced divorce attorney, they can help you identify the tax issues that could affect you.

Failing to Realize that Not All Property is Created Equal

On a related note, divorce involves dividing property, and not all property is created equal. Some property appreciates, while other types of property depreciate. Some property carries a tax benefit, while other property comes with a tax burden. In short, even if it looks like you and your spouse are dividing your property equally today, one of you may be getting the short end of the stick from a value perspective.

Not Knowing What You Will Need After Divorce

One commonly overlooked issue in do-it-yourself divorce is budgeting. Unless you truly understand what your financial needs will be when you are single again, you cannot advocate effectively for yourself when trying to reach a settlement with your spouse.

One reason people pursue a DIY divorce is concern about the cost of a divorce with a lawyer’s help. Another is to try to get the divorce over quickly. Like a wolf chewing off his own leg to get out of a trap, these people are so focused on getting out that they give no thought to what getting out will cost them. And just like the wolf can’t get his leg back once he’s out of the trap, you can’t get more marital assets or alimony if you realize you need them after the ink is dry on your divorce decree.

Is a Utah Do-It-Yourself Divorce Ever a Good Idea?

While you will almost always have a better outcome in your divorce if you are represented by an experienced Utah divorce attorney, there are some situations in which you may be able to get by with a (mostly) DIY divorce. If you have a short term marriage, very little property (and no real estate), no children, and you trust your partner to deal fairly, you could try a do-it-yourself divorce.

But even in that situation, you should still pay for a few hours of an attorney’s time to make sure your paperwork is correct and that you understand what you are agreeing to in your settlement. Consider the attorney’s fee for that time an investment, not an expense.

However, there are some situations in which a DIY divorce is especially risky. You should not try to get a divorce without representation if:

  • You have been married more than a few years
  • You have minor children
  • You own real estate with your spouse
  • You or your spouse have retirement plans to which you contributed during marriage
  • There is domestic abuse or other power imbalance in your marriage
  • You don’t trust your spouse to deal fairly with you
  • Your spouse has an attorney, including if your spouse says, “My attorney will take care of everything.” Your spouse’s attorney works for them and is obligated to act in their best interests — not yours.

The bottom line is that if you are seeking a DIY divorce as a way to save money, it is likely to backfire on you. If you wouldn’t risk a DIY haircut, remember that the stakes are a lot higher with a divorce — and you’ll have to live with the results a lot longer.

If you have questions about how to get a divorce that meets your needs in a way that conserves your resources, please contact BartonWood to schedule a consultation.