Representing yourself in a Divorce can be dangerous.
CORRECTION, IT IS DANGEROUS!
You don’t understand or know the law which many times results in you making decisions or entering into an Agreement that is not best for you.
For example, I recently had a client who is a really nice guy and at the time of the Divorce, he and his wife were cordial so him being the nice guy he is, he agreed to a Divorce Settlement Agreement that was TERRIBLE! This Agreement was prepared by an attorney Wife hired but the parties represented themselves during the actual divorce. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why he thought it was okay at the time he signed it and under the parties’ then-current circumstances. But regardless, it was definitely not something I would have advised him to sign. Here’s an overview of it and why I feel it was so bad for him to sign it:
It was a short-term (4 year) marriage and he agreed to pay alimony of $1,500 for three years. That’s way too long to pay alimony in that case!
It was a specific type of alimony (rehabilitative) which made it more difficult to later contest and allowed Wife to only work part-time so she could attend school (leading to a higher child support obligation because she only works part-time and the type of alimony prohibits the court from imputing full time wages to her)
He agreed to pay child support of $400 per week
He agreed to pay other marital debts of several thousand dollars because again, he thought he would be able to pay them
You may be thinking why would he agree to that? Well, 1) he had a great commission year the year before the Divorce and hoped that level of income would continue and 2) he was a nice guy and just wanted to be sure his daughters were taken care of after the Divorce.
Fast forward a few years later, he hasn’t made the money he hoped so he is in arrears on his obligations and the Court will not amend the terms of his Agreement so he is stuck paying the debts and alimony which he simply cannot afford.
I would have told not him not to sign that Agreement under any circumstances. Here’s a few things he didn’t think about at that time, which is why it’s important to consult with an attorney before signing an Agreement:
Why pay alimony for ¾ of a 4-year marriage? She worked during the marriage and was capable of making money. Why pay so much and for so long? Maybe 1 year. 2 at the absolute max. Anything longer I wouldn’t suggest.
What if your income changes? This type of alimony assumes she will go to school which means she only works part-time so she can attend school which means if your child support is calculated pursuant to the guidelines, the court will only use part-time wages for her which would result in a higher child support obligation for you.
Why so much in child support? I understand you want your kids taken care of but you are agreeing to pay $3,200 per month between Alimony & Child Support and you’re in a commission based business and don’t have a track history of making this much money. Even if not pursuant to the Guidelines, I’d suggest a lower amount of child support.
Why shouldn’t you guys split those marital debts? We have to think of what may change in the future and the Agreement contained a provision that said neither party can modify the terms of the Agreement (hence why we couldn’t get the Court to order her to split the debts, the alimony was reduced because a reduction was agreed upon).
Not knowing the law can have long-lasting detrimental effects on you. Even if you and your spouse are cordial. He was the nice guy and now that he’s behind, she wants him to pay everything he agreed to pay her whether he can afford it or not. Oh, did I mention he has a new wife and child? After paying these obligations, he has barely any money left for his new wife and child. That’s not fair! But unfortunately, the Courts are bound by the law and the law is not always fair. So what can you do to avoid this situation?
DO NOT SIGN AN AGREEMENT WITHOUT HAVING AN ATTORNEY REVIEW IT FIRST!
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The contents of this blog entry are provided for informational purposes only. You should consult with an attorney to determine how the law applies to the facts of your particular case. Reading this blog entry does not create an attorney-client relationship with Kelly McGriff Law.