The recent downturn in the economy has affected the amount of divorces over the past year. Our office has seen two trends:

  1. Some couples are waiting to file for divorce until the market rebounds. They are concerned in the lowered value of assets such as the marital home and retirement savings accounts, and want to hold off on filing for divorce until they will be able to get some value out of the property division. Also, they may not be in a position to support two separate households and are stuck living together one way or another.
  2. Many couples are trying to negotiate the terms of their divorce settlement on their own by writing up their own stipulations for the court. They are cutting costs where possible, and saving themselves the cost of hiring an attorney upfront through negotiating on their own.

The second trend may be dangerous, and in many cases it may end up costing you more money in the end. Even if both parties intend for an agreement to mean one thing, if the language is not written properly, the court will interpret the agreement to mean what it actually says. Our office, and that of other family law attorneys in the area, is seeing an increase now in the number of clients that are seeking to modify the agreement that they entered into without counsel. The clients either intended to have some rights reserved in the agreement, or they were supposed to receive something that they have not. The agreement often is written in a way that does not give the client clear recourse in the legal system. When that happens, the client ends up paying much more in legal costs to fix the problem than they would have to avoid the problem to begin with.

Keeping Costs Low

There are ways to keep costs low while still using an attorney. For example, a lawyer may be retained for the limited purpose of writing an agreement. The parties come to the attorney with a settlement in mind. One of the parties is formally the client, and the other party is “pro se” which means that they are unrepresented in the process. This is because in the legal system, an attorney cannot represent both parties to an action.

Another way to keep costs low is if the parties have most details figured out, but have a few sticking points. The attorney is able to advise the client of the legal standards, explain their chances on succeeding on that claim in court, and helping the parties reach a settlement. Again, the attorney only represents one party. However, the costs are significantly lower even for both parties to have attorneys if the parties cooperate outside of the attorney’s office to reach an agreement.

It is not impossible to use the court system to fix problems in original divorce documents. However, it is in your best interest to seek the advice of a lawyer before signing anything. An attorney is able to point out potential problems with agreements that you may not be aware of. An attorney is also able to make sure that you are protecting your rights in a divorce and that all issues are handled in the most efficient way possible.