« Ind. Courts - "Mandate threat shakes loose new money for local judges" | Main | Law - "U.S. law firms flock to gay-marriage proponents, shun other side" »

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Law - A cautionary tale about doing your own divorce

Ann Carrns begins the "Your Money" column in the June 6, 2014 NY Times:

MARISSA YORK, a real estate broker in Manhattan, used a $50 online do-it-yourself divorce kit when she and her husband of more than nine years decided to part ways. Their breakup was relatively amicable, she said, so she figured they could save money by avoiding lawyers. “We didn’t want to drag it out over months or years,” she said.

But after the courthouse clerk rejected her filing because the document formatting was incorrect, she had the paperwork reviewed by a lawyer, who informed her that if she waited six more months to file, she would be entitled to a portion of her husband’s pension benefits. She ended up paying about $10,000 in legal fees, which was worth it because she received part of the pension, she said. “If I had to do it over, I would hire an attorney immediately,” she said.

More from the column:
In California, roughly three-fourths of family law litigants lack lawyers, said Maureen F. Hallahan, supervising judge in the family law division at San Diego Superior Court. Typically, people file initial divorce paperwork on their own, but they don’t know what to do next, so their file languishes for months. Budget cuts in the state courts reduced available personnel and made the problem worse.

So now some courts in California offer one-day divorce programs for people who either can’t afford or don’t want to hire a lawyer. “The reality is, people are going to do it without lawyers, and we had to accommodate that,” said Judge Hallahan.

The program doesn’t mean a divorce is truly started and completed in a single day — residency and notification requirements have to be met first. You must, for example, already have filed a divorce petition and served your spouse with divorce papers to participate.

But the program does allow you to wrap things up in a single day, or even a matter of hours, once you meet the initial criteria. “This is designed to help people get through the system,” said Judge Hallahan. * * *

Such abbreviated options work best when there is no dispute over custody of children or division of property and no request for financial support, said Ann-Margaret Carrozza, a lawyer in New York who specializes in asset protection.

Maria P. Cognetti, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, noted that many courts already offered self-help clinics to teach divorcing couples how to navigate the legal system. She strongly cautioned couples with any significant assets to avoid one-day programs, since both parties may benefit from legal advice. If either spouse has any assets, “you should be booted out of the one-day divorce scenario,” she said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 10, 2014 09:33 AM
Posted to General Law Related