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Do-it-yourself divorce

For those who can make a clean break, have nothing to dispute, no children and little assets, a do-it-yourself divorce can be ideal. It's an alternative offered in some states.

With this type of divorce, you represent yourself -- instead of lawyer representing you -- in court. Legal documents can be prepared for you by an agency, and submitted to the court for you. According to Divorce Wizards in Newport Beach, Calif., once the papers are filed with the court, the spouse is required to sign divorce papers that are served with the opportunity to contest the case.

When the case is opened, you complete more worksheets about property distribution and a parenting plan, which becomes a basis for the marriage settlement. If there are no assets and no children, there are no signatures required, provided the case remains uncontested. Ultimately, final documents are filed with the court. It may require an appearance before a judge to explain your reasoning for the divorce. When the court gets around to signing them, the divorce becomes final. The steps and costs involved in this type of divorce vary from state to state.

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Susan Goldstein, family law attorney and co-author with Valerie Colb of The Smart Divorce: A Practical Guide to the 200 Things You Must Know, says these types of divorces fit for a couple with no children, limited assets and nothing to dispute. She says the people who tend to use the do-it-yourself divorce have much more debt than assets.

"The problem is the paperwork isn't drafted in a way to protect each spouse from debt the other is assuming," Goldstein says. She maintains that a lot of places have paralegals doing the paperwork, instead of a lawyer. Lynne Diamond, founder of Divorce Wizards and a divorce mediator, says she has paralegals who prepare the documents, and the agreements are supervised by attorneys.

"The paperwork will not be a well-worded court order," she confirms. For people who absolutely have no money to afford a lawyer, Goldstein sees the necessity for some to choose this method. "I'm not a fan, but I understand why they're there and what purpose they serve," Goldstein concedes.

-- Posted: June 30, 1999


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See Also
Do-it-yourself divorce
Mediation instead of litigation
Common divorce mistakes
Ten questions to ask your attorney in the initial interview
The cost of a divorce
Divorce and debt
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