It’s always sad when a good person comes in to meet with me about a post-judgment problem only to discover their DIY divorce locked him or her into a bad, unworkable situation. We’ve seen this many times, and it recently happened again.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We talked about it and had it all worked out. How was I supposed to know our documents missed something so critical?
Settlement documents can be grammatically correct and still very wrong for your future. It might be what was said, and it might be what was left out. It might be language that the courts can’t or won’t enforce. It might be some unmentioned legal presumption flowing from some seemingly harmless looking phrase. It might reflect a misunderstanding you had but exactly the intention your spouse wanted.
Clearly, some errors, mistakes, outcomes can be corrected or modified. But doing it right in the first place could have been much simpler and effective. And what about the other errors, mistakes, outcomes–the ones that can’t be changed? Or can’t be modified without extraordinary, after-the-fact efforts? For all those, you will be stuck with the problems, or you will be forced into a battle you never wanted. So sad.
Remember the caution of Buyer Beware? Companies selling packets of generic forms are in it for profit. They do not care about your specific situation and can’t give you the legal advice you need to protect you or your children.
Among other reasons, your future matters when:
-you want what’s best for your children (custody and parenting time)
-you need a workable plan for financial responsibility (child support and spousal support)
-you do not understand how your future living expenses will be impacted
-you are unsure whether a property settlement covers all the basis, has any traps or ignores a better approach
-you need to share a retirement plan (pension, IRA or 401(k))
-you need to factor in the value of a business, stock options, restricted shares or other complex property interests
-you need to understand the tax consequences flowing from your choices
-you wonder about future changes in circumstances, including your spouse’s potential failure to follow through on promises
-you wonder about bankruptcy
-you are uneasy about the process (current or future)
If your future matters, you should consult with an attorney specializing in divorce and family law. You might need full representation, or just a case assessment. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And yes, of course, Buyer Beware–hire the best divorce lawyer you can. Your future deserves experience, skills, judgment and good, solid advice.
Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for, and your cheap divorce might become so very costly. Buyer beware.