DIY Divorce? Why Hiring an Attorney Might End Up Saving You in the Long-Run

Posted on November 21, 2017 by Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson

In today’s online world, more people are turning to the internet as a way to save money and find a do-it-yourself solution. You can watch YouTube videos explaining how to repair items around your house, do your own taxes through programs like TurboTax, and now there are online programs to walk you through the divorce process. While the idea of a DIY divorce may sound appealing for your wallet, is it the best choice?

In Washington State, there is no requirement to have an attorney in a divorce proceeding. For some people a divorce can be a relatively amicable process and an online program costing less than $1,000 seems appealing. However, there are significant aspects of the law that an online DIY divorce will not cover. An online divorce will not help you understand any of your legal rights or ensure you are receiving an equitable resolution.

Understandably, any divorce with children can be much more complicated. While you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse may get along and having a very general parenting plan may not be an issue now, situations can always change over the course of months and years. Modifying a past parenting plan in Washington State is not an easy task and, while you may have saved money when first creating the plan, the cost to fix or modify it later could be much higher.

If there are no children involved, the process may be a bit more straightforward. Nonetheless, there are no bright-line rules as to how to divide a couple’s assets and liabilities or whether one spouse should get spousal support (“spousal maintenance”). The first step in dividing property is to determine what property is community and what property is separate. However, even if property is characterized as one party’s separate property, the Court might have authority to award some of that property to the other party.

Additionally, some property is not easily divisible. In Seattle, many companies pay employees with stock options or stock awards with different vesting periods. It is important to understand how those property interests are characterized and what interest the other spouse may have in the options. In addition, a retirement account such as 401(k) or pension plan may be divided in a divorce proceeding without tax consequences but there are very specific rules and regulations that must be followed to ensure there are no financial penalties or tax consequences. Overall, Washington law provides that property is to be divided “fairly and equitably” based on a number of factors. What seems “fair and equitable” to one spouse may not seem so to the other.

Ultimately, an online DIY divorce program can save money, but it cannot give you individual legal advice ensuring you understand your legal rights and whether you are receiving a fair and equitable settlement. Final divorces orders can be difficult, or even impossible, to modify in the future and certainly costly to do so. If you are considering a divorce or separation, contact Miriam Gordon at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson PLLC to set up a consultation to discuss the process and your legal rights.