I get it. Lawyers are expensive. So, you ask yourself, should I get a divorce lawyer? Can I wing it myself? I think in almost all cases it’s worth getting a divorce lawyer, but it is possible to do it yourself with minimum risk – if you have nothing to lose in the first place. Otherwise, it is certainly worth getting a divorce lawyer to represent you in your divorce.
If you have minor children it's worth getting a divorce lawyer
If you have minor children with the person you wish to divorce, there are numerous issues that have to be resolved, especially child support so it’s worth getting a divorce lawyer. Can you just wing child support? No, a child support order must be supported by the facts and the law and the proper forms have to be prepared and completed in addition to the pleadings that start a divorce and the decrees that conclude a divorce.
Can you just skip child support? Figure it out for yourselves after the divorce is over? No. Child support is for the benefit of the children and you aren’t allowed to waive it or skip over it even if both parties agree. Although many of the orders involving children can be modified later, they can only be modified if justified by a change in circumstances. So you can’t just leave it until later and mistakes you make establishing the child support, though usually possible to fix, are not easy to fix.
Also, some things like college educations costs are outside of the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Family Court. They have no authority to compel a parent to pay college tuitions, etc. So if you do not come to a binding agreement regarding those issues during your divorce, you have lost the opportunity to do so. And that you can’t fix later. When you have minor children it’s almost always worth getting a divorce lawyer
If you need alimony or health insurance...
While you can obtain an order in a divorce requiring your spouse to maintain you on their health insurance in accordance with Rhode Island divorce law, you must have that granted at the hearing, so it’s worth getting a divorce lawyer. If you don’t, your spouse can drop you from their employer’s health insurance and after that happens, the court may not be able to help you, even if you file an appeal within the deadline. (Did I mention there are deadlines?)
There is another possible disastrous scenario if you need to stay on your spouse’s health insurance. Some out of state employers don’t cover ex-spouses with their health insurance because the Rhode Island health care continuation act doesn’t apply to them. So, even if you get the language of the act included in the decrees, you still won’t be able to stay on your spouse’s health insurance, as you will find out when the divorce becomes final and they drop you.
The same is true of alimony. If you need alimony you have to properly establish that at the hearing, so the judge knows whether you need it and how much you need. Then you must properly include the requirement in the orders, supported by the facts enumerated in the judge’s decision – in two, not one divorce decree.
If you don’t properly address alimony and health insurance at the divorce hearing, you will not be able to go back and correct those mistakes! These are just a few of the things that can go wrong and make it worth getting a divorce lawyer.
If there are joint debts or even medical bills...
Did you know that under Rhode Island law you are responsible for your spouse’s medical treatment costs even if your name is not attached in any way to the bill? Well, you are! You need to properly address all of your liabilities, joint or personal, at the nominal divorce hearing or you may get stuck with your ex spouse’s debts and medical bills count as joint debts. That alone makes it worth getting a divorce lawyer.
Because getting a divorce is harder than it should be...
Unfortunately, Rhode Island does not have a process whereby in a simple, uncontested divorce you can skip the part where you go to court and just sign papers. You have to file the proper pleadings, attend the hearing, say the proper words to establish jurisdiction, grounds, etc and then file not one, but two divorce decrees in the right order and in the right amount of time.
The courts have tried to help pro se litigants, (people without attorneys) get through the divorce hearing without representation but created a much bigger problem in doing so. By helping the parties provide the minimum information needed to establish jurisdiction and grounds for a divorce, the parties get through the hearing, hear the judge grant the divorce only to find they don’t know how to properly file the decrees. They end up still married!
Even worse, some manage to file the decrees or end up spending the money to hire an attorney to do that for them, only to learn later that they made one of the many mistakes pro se litigants can make in a divorce and that they are stuck with the consequences. Hiring the attorney then is too late because the attorney can’t just change what happened in the hearing. All they can do is help you prepare and file the decrees reflecting what happened in the hearing. This is why it’s worth getting a divorce lawyer before you create a problem instead of after.
So, is it worth getting a divorce attorney? We think it is
If you want to try to do your own uncontested divorce, we have a DIY Uncontested Divorce Checklist you may use. We don’t recommend it. We think getting a divorce attorney is a much better idea. Doing it yourself is potentially a big mistake. Saving the cost of an attorney fee is not worth the risk of making a significant mistake. But if you have no children, assets, debts, or any special needs and believe you have nothing to lose, feel free to use the checklist. We hope it helps you. You can find many of the forms you need at the Rhode Island Family Court website.
If you don’t want to take the risk, contact us now. We would be happy to help.