If you took a poll at work, how many of your co-workers cut their own hair?

I am often asked “do I need a lawyer ?”. Just as you hire a lawyer for any transactional work, such as a real estate closing, a lawyer can ensure that you have covered all of your bases in a divorce.

While I certainly do not counsel anyone proceeding in a matter as serious as a divorce to do so without an attorney, if you are considering proceeding by purchasing a do it yourself kit; or finding the forms online, here are some things to decide if that is the right path for you:

1. How long have you been married? – A short term marriage is generally a better fit than a long term one.

2. Do you have any assets? – Sometimes people only think of assets as “brick and mortar”-such as a house or bank account. However, often someone’s pension is the most significant property of the marriage. Therefore, even if you cannot feel, touch, or see it, you may have sizeable wealth.

3. Do you have any debts? – The question isn’t who the debt is titled to, but do either of you have any debts? While you may feel that you have no obligation for your spouse’s debts, a creditor may not agree with you.

4. Do you have children? – If so, there are two aspects of custody that need to be dealt with, legal (decision making) and physical (when the children live with each parent). Custody arrangements have significant ramifications, emotionally and financially.

5. Supporting the children – The person the children primarily live with is entitled to child support. If you share custody, that does not negate the responsibility of the higher wage earner to potentially pay child support.

6. Is there a wage disparity? – One of you may be entitled to spousal maintenance, the amount and duration as defined by statute. The longer the marriage, the longer the payment would be.

7. Taxes – Have you ever filed jointly? The issues of responsibility to the government can be significant, even once you are apart.

8. Health Insurance – Are you currently covered under your spouse’s policy? Once you are divorced, you cannot be on your spouse’s plan, although you may be entitled to COBRA benefits. Who covers your children? How is that expense going to be shared?

9. Life Insurance – Is life insurance appropriate for your family? If somebody is paying spousal maintenance or child support, you may need life insurance in the event that the payer passes away during the time they are making these payments.

While certainly most of us can cut our own hair, it may not be the best idea. Although a bad haircut can grow out, a divorce that has not addressed significant issues, or has addressed them in an incorrect or unfair way, is probably not repairable.

March 2020 Margaret Tabak

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