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The Pitfalls of Do it Yourself Divorce Kits

Trying to go about obtaining a divorce on your own is a little like trying to climb a mountain without a sherpa. You can read all the books that you want on mountain climbing. You can buy the best clothes, practice in your backyard, and do all the pushups you want to build upper body strength. However, at the end of the day when you get to the base of that mountain and look up your stomach is going to be in your throat. At that moment you need someone who has been there before and can work with you to provide some guidance and knowledge about the process. Many experienced mountaineers will tell you that on the wrong mountain, on a wrong day a bad break here or there can wind up costing you your life. A divorce is not that serious but it's close. 

Your life will be forever changed by the divorce, however. Going through a divorce will alter the property that you own as well as how you raise your children. The family structure that you have become accustomed to will also be impacted. Humans are used to evolving and changing as their environment requires but divorce is an abrupt change in so many areas of your life. It is difficult to anticipate how you will react to those changes before they occur. When they do occur, you need to be able to roll with the punches as additional changes come. Again- all the preparation you can manage on your own is not a substitute for experience. 

A Do It Yourself Divorce Kit can be a very helpful guide for you if for no other reason than you are interested in learning more about divorce in Texas. For many people, a do-it-yourself divorce kit is just what the doctor ordered if nothing else because it provides you with a detailed overview of the divorce process in Texas so that you can learn what you need to do if you are interested in getting a divorce but not hiring an attorney to help you do so. I know certain circumstances may push you towards a divorce that does not necessarily call for having an attorney on board to assist. If you believe that your divorce is one of those kinds of cases then a Do It Yourself Divorce Kit can help you tremendously. 

What is a Do It Yourself Divorce Kit?

A do-it-yourself divorce kit is exactly what it sounds like- a set of materials made available to those people who want to obtain a divorce without the assistance of a lawyer or anyone else for that matter. Divorce in a box is what you could call it if you were wanting to think of an even shorter name. What is contained in a do-it-yourself divorce kit can vary, I'm sure. The concept is not unique to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan or any other practitioner of the law but similar component pieces are contained within each from what I have seen and experienced. 

For starters, you will have a run-down of the forms that are necessary to obtain a divorce in your jurisdiction. For us, that would be Texas. Virtually identical processes and procedures are followed in all 254 counties of Texas when it comes to getting divorced. There may be slight variances here or there but for the most part, you and your spouse can get divorced in Fort Bend, Jefferson. Dallas, Bexar, or Harris County by following the same framework. What can differ are what specific judges like to have included in orders, any closing documents that a court needs to see before a divorce will be granted, and things of this nature. You do not need to have a law degree to get divorced in Texas. You do not need to hire an attorney to get divorced in Texas. People get divorced every day without an attorney. That is the point behind a do-it-yourself divorce kit. That you can pick one of these kits up and file for divorce. No particular guarantees of success are made in these kits but then again, no particular guarantees of success can be made to you by an attorney, either. All you can do is prepare as well as possible and position yourself to make the least number of mistakes possible. The rest is left up to a higher power than even a judge. 

An Original Petition for Divorce will always initiate a divorce. The Original Petition for Divorce includes basic information about you, your spouse, and your minor children. You can specify your reason (if any) for filing for divorce as well as any requested relief that you are seeking from the court. The Original Petition is not a lengthy document. All it does is tell the court that you are asking for a divorce and then present a set of requests to the court for what is known as "relief." The rest of the details are relatively minor at this stage because so much of the case is yet to be determined. Do not assume that you will have to go through a lot of effort to file for divorce. The most effort that can go into filing for a divorce is finding your spouse to have him or her served with the divorce papers. 

Once your spouse has been served with the divorce papers your case is moving right along. The do-it-yourself divorce kit includes a sample Answer which is the document that is filed by your spouse in response to your Original Petition for Divorce. Your spouse (or you) would have up to twenty days to file an Answer in response to the Petition for Divorce. Failure to file an Answer can result in a default judgment being taken against you in the divorce. This means that your spouse can submit a final order of their choosing to the judge without consulting with you. If the terms of that final order do not violate the norms of Texas public policy he or she will likely get that order entered. You would need to file a motion for a new trial within thirty days of that order being entered to allow yourself to go back and have your divorce case re-heard. 

Templates for temporary orders are likely to be included in a do-it-yourself divorce kit, as well. Temporary orders are the orders that will create the "dos and don'ts for your case" up until final orders are entered. Temporary orders basically will tell you and your spouse how to behave throughout the case when it comes to property and your children. You and your spouse will have an opportunity to think up how to share custody of your children during the divorce. You can think of this as a dry run for how custody would work after your divorce is over. The same is true with your community property. Who gets to live in the family home during the divorce? Who pays the bills? Who pays child support? These are the type of property-related questions that will be answered in your temporary orders. 

The Final Decree of Divorce is the most important document within the divorce case. This is what you and your spouse have been building to in the divorce. The ability to put what was negotiated upon and/or ordered by a judge into enforceable court orders is what makes a divorce case worth the while. What are all of the arguing, lawyers, and unpleasantness of the divorce good for but to have instructions, guidance, and guardrails in your life and that of your children after the divorce has concluded? Do not underestimate just how critical the Final Decree of Divorce is to your life after the divorce. You can gain a basic understanding of this document by flipping through a do-it-yourself divorce guide. It is long. Many final decrees of divorce are forty pages or longer. Generally speaking, the more complex your divorce is the lengthier your final decree of divorce will be. Do not skimp on reading through this document because it is easy to leave information out that could otherwise be important. 

You may also find forms like domestic relations orders, inventory and appraisement forms for community and separate property, and a listing of preferred documents that you need to have on hand before being given the go-ahead by your judge to get the divorce or at least come to a prove-up hearing. You need to be aware that each judge in your county (if there is more than one judge in your county) may require or at least prefer to have documents done in a certain way. This is not something you can control necessarily but what you can control is figuring out how to prepare for your case and be as intentional as possible. 

Intentionality- a do-it-yourself divorce kit does not help in this regard

One of the most frustrating parts of a divorce is the feeling that you are walking a tightrope with no safety net underneath you. Picture this in your mind: you are a tightrope walker at the circus and you trying to walk from one end of the rope to the other without falling. Not having a net beneath you can make you feel completely different about the process than you did before. The margin for error shrinks dramatically when you feel the need to be perfect with all of the documents you will be drafting as well as the negotiations that you and your spouse undergo. A do-it-yourself divorce kit is great when you have a plan. It is not so great if you have no plan but just wants to get the case over with. 

This brings me to my first major pitfall of a do-it-yourself divorce kit. The fact is that you can wander into a divorce, but it is tough to wander out of a divorce and hope to achieve any sort of goal. You need to look at your situation and figure out what you need to accomplish not only for yourself but also for your children. If you are not the kind of person who excels in brainstorming and otherwise coming up with goals and plans on your own, then a do-it-yourself divorce kit gives you a false sense of security in my opinion. While you are given information in these do-it-yourself divorce guides it is not as if you are also given a proper perspective on your case or any ideas about how to structure your case. 

Being intentional in your divorce case is a very important trait to possess. It is so easy to lose yourself in all the details, all the difficulties, and all of the other "stuff" that comes along with a divorce that you can forget that there are concrete steps that you need to follow to achieve goals. Preparedness is key. Ask any person who walks out of mediation with their head held high. That person will tell you not only were they prepared but they were intentional in what they wanted to do in mediation. They did not act wishy-washy in the negotiation room nor were they confused by the proceedings. Being prepared leads to being more confident in a divorce. Confident people tend to negotiate better. Better negotiators tend to accomplish more of what they want in their divorce. This is the result of acting with intentionality and relying upon the advice and perspective of an experienced family law attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. 

While a do-it-yourself divorce kit can be helpful, almost anyone reading this blog post who has an atypical divorce on his hands likely will suffer if you try to go the divorce-in-a-box route. The information and perspective of an attorney in your divorce will become invaluable to you. Think of hiring a lawyer as a short-term investment into your long-term future. Do not become disenchanted with the idea of hiring an attorney because of things you have heard other people say about lawyers. How you view lawyers is your own business, but you should judge after learning more about them yourself. 

Do-it-yourself divorce kits are not always up-to date

The reality is that whoever offers the do-it-yourself divorce guide may do their best to keep the documents and overview of the process up to date it is likely that some portion of the kit is outdated. The Texas Legislature meets every two years. So, if the Do it Yourself Divorce guide has not been updated in the past couple of years, then it is likely that the documentation and process overview is no longer current. You should be wary of relying on a divorce guide that cannot keep up with the times. 

Do-it-yourself divorce kits are not helpful when it comes to choices

Everyone will have a series of choices to make within the context of a divorce. What sort of visitation schedule do you want for your case? How do you want to divide up the equity in your home? These are the sort of questions that you need to have answered. You need to be the one to answer them. Having someone with experience in divorce cases help you to answer them would be nice. That's not what the do-it-yourself divorce kit is there for, however. The do-it-yourself divorce kit is there to provide you with information and documentation. When you must make a tough call in the divorce you are basically on your own. You can try to learn as much as you can through the information provided. Maybe that will help you conclude more clearly. However, if it does not your case will not be moving forward all that efficiently. 

Did you know that some of our current clients once started their divorce cases without an attorney? These folks were well-intentioned but ultimately unable to complete their case without our help. That's not to say that they were not prepared or were not intelligent. Rather, the difficulty of a divorce is that this is probably your first divorce, and you don't know what you don't know. There is no substitute for an experienced, well-intentioned, and prepared family law attorney for you and your family. We want to be able to offer you an alternative to other law firms here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Contact us today and we can show you why we are a better option for you than any service offered by any other lawyer in southeast Texas. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan 

If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case. 

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