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The Dirty Divorce Trick of The Do it Yourself Divorce

Doing your own divorce is a very difficult task. I have heard it compared to trying to perform surgery in the dark. Another comparison I like is that it may be possible to do your own brain surgery, but it is probably not a good idea.

Yes, it may be possible to do your own divorce. However, as some of the following stories will illustrate, seemingly small things can amount to huge mistakes. I have heard other lawyers say that if the following criteria are met, a divorce kit might work:

  1. No Children
  2. No property
  3. Short-Term Marriage (less than three years)
  4. Young Couple
  5. No Assets
  6. No Special Assets (pensions, 401ks, businesses, etc.)

Even if these above criteria are met, I would be concerned with trying to handle a divorce on your own. When talking with potential consults, I often find some sort of wrinkle in their case that they overlook.

For example, one consult I met with told me they did not have any children. This turned out not to be the case. The consult had children with other men, but they were not her husband’s, so she thought they didn’t count.

This type of thinking often extends to property. A consult will think:

  1. It is my property
  2. It is in my name
  3. I made the money that purchased the property

Beware the $200 and $500 Divorce

After signing up, two different clients in less than a month had problems with a divorce lawyer promising to handle their case at a meager cost and then not coming through. I decided to write this article to help educate about some of the costs in divorces.

Later, I plan to publish a follow-up article or companion article I have started tracking my cases as to divorce costs. I currently am monitoring expenses, attorney time, cases with children, cases without children, cases with properties, etc.

Beware $200-dollar Divorces

My practice does not offer divorce for $200, and I do not know any legitimate attorney or website that does. There is a simple reason for this; the filing for a divorce is currently:

1. $268.00 with no children - Harris County

2. $295 with children - Harris County

3. $292.00 Family Law Case – Montgomery County

This filing fee does not include any additional fees such as the cost of a citation or hiring a process server. This disparity between the price to file for divorce and what is being advertised illustrates there is no way to get a divorce for as low as $200.

Be Careful of $500 divorces

My practice does not offer divorce for $500. I have seen some websites offering a $500 package. I believe in many circumstances what is being advertised by websites offering $200 is the costs for some forms that you fill out yourself or sometimes software will ask you some questions then fill them out for you.

You are then mailed the forms to figure out what to do with them yourself. If you are lucky, the forms may come with instructions. I will caution you if you are planning to use any forms not prepared by an attorney, use the forms put out by the Texas Supreme Court.

At least once a week, I see someone trying to do their divorce themselves. One of the biggest mistakes that are made by these individuals is they try and use forms that are not Texas Specific. One of the cases I absorbed last week, the Judge did not let the couple go forward because their divorce decree talked about custody and had some weird non-Texas possession schedule. The Judge told the couple he was not going to let them go ahead because 1) we have conservatorship in Texas, not custody; and 2) The possession schedule was not something he would approve. The Judge then told the couple they needed an attorney.

Texas Supreme Court Divorce Forms

I am not going to discuss the forms put out by the Texas Supreme Court other than to say pay attention to the boxes. The forms do not cover a lot of situations. Even if your case seems simple, they were not designed to cover certain circumstances. In the situations in “not included,” there are boxes on the forms WARNING not to use the forms and to consult with an attorney.

I get at least one case a month that falls into the category where an individual did not read the box or ignored the box saying the form would not work for him. Then he went before the judge, and because of his set of facts, the judge refused to let him proceed and told him to consult with a divorce attorney.

Story #1 - $300 Divorce Cost a Man $100,000

Earlier this week, I received a call from an ex-husband who had divorced his wife in June of 2015. He and his wife agreed that he could have a life insurance policy on her.

They continued to live together after divorce until the ex-wife died in December 2015. Just that week, he had received a letter from the insurance company that they denied his claim on the $100,000 policy because of the divorce.

Further questions revealed that the man did not want to pay for an attorney and instead spent $300 for some forms and had done the divorce himself. The ex-husband wanted to know if there was anything that could be done as he had been paying on the policy for over ten years. Unfortunately, in his case, the law does not favor him in this case as I will discuss below.

Failure to Change the Beneficiary of a Life Insurance Policy

It is essential to change the beneficiary on your life insurance beneficiary policy after a divorce in Texas.

It is not uncommon for people to forget to change their beneficiary designations after a divorce. For this reason, the Texas legislature passed a law to address the situation. Texas Family Code §9.301 specifically sets out provisions to deal with a case where a pre-divorce designation of an ex-spouse as a beneficiary of life insurance benefits has been made.

Under this statute, a pre-divorce designation of a former spouse is not effective UNLESS:

  1. the decree designates the insured's former spouse as the beneficiary;
  2. the insured redesignates the former spouse as the beneficiary after the rendition of the divorce decree; or
  3. the former spouse is designated to receive the proceeds in trust for, on behalf of, or for the benefit of a child or a dependent of either former spouse.

An ex-spouse will not be able to collect on the pre-divorce life insurance policy unless they meet one of the three preceding criteria.

Instead, according to Texas Family Code §9.301 Section (b), the proceeds of the policy are payable to the named alternative beneficiary or, if there is not a named alternative beneficiary, to the estate of the insured.

Keep in mind that if the insurance company is not informed that the parties have divorced and the ex-spouse should not be paid the benefits, it is possible the insurance company may pay the former spouse. In such a case, it could be costly and difficult to recover the money.

What can be done if an ex-spouse is still designated as beneficiary?

The best thing to do after your divorce would be to contact your life insurance company and to update the beneficiary designations on retirement plans, life insurance policies, annuities, survivor’s benefits, and all similar benefit plans.

Alternatively, if the insured has passed away, then one thing that can be done to stop an insurance company from paying a former spouse after the death of an insured is to give written notice by certified mail to the insurer at its home office that the designation of the former spouse is not valid under the Texas Family Code §9.301.

What could the ex-husband have done to prevent his predicament?

In the husband’s case, he could either have made sure a provision was placed in the divorce decree designating him as a beneficiary of the insurance policy. Alternatively, after the divorce, he could have beneficiary re-designated as a beneficiary.

The Cheap and Easy, Online Divorce Is Usually Anything But...

The internet is a great source for referencing information, learning a new recipe, and updating your friends on the latest and greatest coffee shop in town. However, it's been my experience that looking for answers to your divorce problems online is not only a potential mistake but a costly one as well.

A situation that is familiar enough begins with the parties to a divorce striking a deal between themselves to file for an "uncontested" divorce. They've agreed to their terms and just want to make things official with the court.

What often ends up happening is that the parties fail to consider a potential issue with custody of their child(ren), or a debt that is not transferred correctly to the other spouse. Being able to get some advice from an attorney on these sorts of subjects has the potential to impact you and your spouse in a positive fashion.

A lot of times, these quick and easy divorce websites are selling you the same forms you may be able to get for free from your local district clerk. That's not even considering the advice and counsel that a licensed and experienced attorney can provide you on completing the initial court filings.

Another near-universal truth of these websites that offer quick and easy divorces is that they puff their chests about customer support and service. However, there is no guarantee that the person on the other end of the phone or chat screen is an attorney.

Quite the contrary, it's likely not a lawyer at all, and it's even less likely that they're a lawyer licensed in Texas. The fine print of these cheap and easy online divorces can ultimately cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars in the long run.

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Other Articles you may be interested in:

  1. The Dirty Trick of Stripping the House During a Texas Divorce
  2. The Dirty Trick of Using the Same Divorce Lawyer
  3. The Dirty Trick of the Common Law Marriage
  4. The Dirty Trick of Getting Your Spouse to Leave the Marital Home
  5. The Dirty Trick of Fake Emails and Electronic Evidence
  6. The Dirty Trick of the Unenforceable Visitation Order
  7. Dirty Divorce Trick - Turning into a Temporary “Helicopter” Parent
  8. The Dirty Trick of Spousal Spying in a Texas Divorce
  9. The Dirty Trick of Embarrassing your Spouse During a Texas Divorce
  10. The Dirty Trick of Damaging, Destroying, or Selling Marital Assets in Texas
  11. The Dirty Trick of Filing for Divorce in Another City
  12. The Dirty Trick of Moving Out of State with the Kids
  13. The Dirty Trick of Hiding Assets During Your Texas Divorce
  14. The Dirty Trick of Wasting Marital Assets or Going on a Spending Spree During Your Texas Divorce
  15. The Dirty Trick of Engaging in Spousal Starving During a Texas Divorce

Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our divorce lawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County

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