Facing the Facts About Divorce

"Why do I need to hire a divorce lawyer if I can use a do-it-yourself kit?" Hiring a divorce lawyer guarantees a more equitable distribution of marital assets.

Why Hire a Divorce Lawyer If I Can Use a DIY Divorce Kit?

The cost of hiring a divorce lawyer causes some divorcing couples to ask, “Why hire a divorce lawyer if I can use a do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce kit?” Before you decide, you’ll need to evaluate whether DIY divorce serves your best interests. A DIY kit saves money in the short run. However, if you have children or joint property, you may wish you had hired a divorce lawyer. Why? The advantage of hiring a divorce lawyer guarantees a more equitable distribution of marital assets.

Advantages of Choosing a Divorce Lawyer

Some states forbid the use of DIY divorce packets, except for couples without children or property, regardless of any signed agreement. Aside from simply filling out paperwork to file for dissolution, divorce often involves filing ancillaries. These consist of legal claims linked to the petition for divorce and include such items as:

  • Property division
  • Child support
  • Child custody
  • Alimony
  • Debt and asset distribution

The Role of a Divorce Lawyer

What can a divorce lawyer do that you cannot handle yourself? A couple can prepare and file their own paperwork with the court with a DIY kit. But in their desire to save money, they may agree to accept less than an equitable distribution of assets. As a result, they wind up back in court later. An experienced divorce lawyer is far better able to negotiate:

  • Equitable distribution of real property
  • Reassignment of the deed to the marital home
  • Child support
  • Visitation for the non-custodial parent
  • Spousal support and/or alimony
  • Continuance of health insurance based on existing state laws
  • Equitable distribution of all monetary assets and equal distribution of tangible property
  • Equitable distribution of debts

The expense of hiring a lawyer generally pays off in the long run, since most couples neither know nor understand the divorce laws in their state. A competent lawyer guarantees both parties receive only those things to which they are legally entitled. A lawyer also negotiates on behalf of his own client within the confines of the law.

Divorce Myths

A lot of myths about divorce cause confusion, especially for those considering DIY divorce. Here are three of the more common myths.

  • The court awards one spouse alimony until they remarry or for a lifetime.
    The courts do not award alimony or spousal support the long-term no matter how much or how little each party gets in the divorce. Each state has its own rules regarding alimony or spousal support. They may require the couple be married for a specific period—often 10 or more years. The court generally issues orders for only long enough to allow the spouse to become self-supporting.
  • The spouse who brought more into the marriage or purchased more during the marriage will receive a higher percentage of the marital assets.
    In most divorces where property involving property, the court divides assets as close to 50/50 as possible. This holds true even in non-community property states. In cases claiming abuse, or one spouse brought a substantial amount of assets into the marriage, the court may possibly award a small percentage more to one spouse over the other. The lawyers would present such a case to the judge.
  • If one spouse claims adultery, the court will award the wronged spouse a larger share of the marital assets.
    Although this may seem unfair, even adulterers deserve their share of the marital assets. The court divides property without respect to adultery. Adultery guarantees only that the court will grant a divorce in states with at-fault divorce, or in some states that allow other reasons such as adultery.

Divorce and Credit

Credit often causes difficulty in divorce. Your spouse may possess credit cards with high balances, secured without your knowledge. However, since you are married, the creditor granted credit based on both parties’ assets. This also occurs when married couples jointly apply for credit.

Your spouse may possess credit cards with high balances, secured without your knowledge. However, since you are married, the creditor granted credit based on both parties assets.

Refinancing each debt into your individual names resolves the problem most effectively. You each then assume sole responsibility for repayment of your individual accounts. However, the ability to refinance and transfer debt depends on both of you having high enough credit scores for approval.

When refinancing is not an option, you and your spouse could divide the debt fairly and close that account. Closing the account before the divorce prevents your spouse from incurring new charges after you’ve paid down the balance.

What Constitutes Marital Debt?

Marital debt includes home loans, auto loans, bank loans, and revolving credit. If your income alone is insufficient to pay these, you may have to assign one of more of those accounts to your spouse. When the debt involves a home or auto loan, your rights to these items terminate once your spouse becomes solely responsible and places the loan in their own name. You will not lose everything; you are still entitled to a portion of what would have been yours prior to the divorce.

Once you have completed these steps, obtain a copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) and closely monitor your score. Dispute any discrepancies immediately. Send any necessary documentation when you file the dispute to substantiate any changes in responsibility for any loans or other credit accounts.

Regular monitoring helps you keep close watch on your credit and alerts you to any changes that occur. It helps to prevent you from responsibility for your ex’s charges when the marriage ends.

Understanding Property Division During Divorce

Every divorce encounters ups and downs. Consult your divorce lawyer to iron things out. It helps reaching agreement for a fair division of property and avoids bickering. The courts only become involved in the process if you fail to come to an equitable agreement, even with the help of an attorney.

Although 50/50 may appear to be a fair distribution, the judge will review several factors. These may include:

  • Income of both you and your spouse
  • Age of each spouse
  • Health of each spouse
  • Ownership of any separate property
  • Individual careers
  • Responsibility for the children

Division of Marital Property

Quite often, marital property includes a home that served as a primary residence during the marriage. That home becomes part of the property division. The court can choose to divide the marital home in several ways.

  • The court can order the couple to sell the home, and once they have satisfied any liens, split the profits between themselves.
  • If there are children, the court may allow the custodial parent to remain in the home until the children graduate.
  • The spouse who remains in the marital residence may have to purchase the interest of the other spouse.

The courts split all assets in divorce in much the same way. The rules may vary in different states and even in different cases. In community property states, the standard is to split all marital assets 50/50. The judge can make the final decision if the divorced couple is unable to do so in an agreeable manner.

 Some states are classified as equitable distribution states. Everything the couple acquired while married is subject to division between them. Who acquired the asset makes no difference; each is entitled to either half the asset or half its value.

In addition to the distribution of assets, spouses also split any debt. Both spouses hold responsibility for any debt incurred before the divorce without regard to the original borrower.

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