Top Seven Mistakes Made By Pro Se Divorcees
If you are trying to save money by handling your own divorce without an attorney, you are referred to as a “pro se litigant.” In our combined 36 years of family law experience, Daniel Hamilton and I have seen some common but serious mistakes that people make in their divorces. Sometimes, these mistakes can be fixed when the client comes to us soon enough to clean up the mess. However, certain mistakes can be irreversible. The purpose of this article is to educate the pro se divorcing individual in hopes that he will not make any of these mistakes. And in order of seriousness, the top mistakes are:
1. RETIREMENT BENEFITS
The biggest mistake that you can make is not preparing and entering a QDRO at the time of the entry of your Judgment for Dissolution. A QDRO is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. If this important legal document is not prepared properly, signed by both parties, entered by the Judge and effectively delivered to the Plan Administrator someone could end up a in real world of hurt. This is the #1 mistake that can be made in a divorce. As this is a very complicated issue, it is no surprise that this is the #1 mistake that an attorney can make which will often result in a claim through his malpractice insurer.
2. REAL ESTATE
Not having the Quit Claim deed signed at the moment immediately after the divorce, i.e. when you walk outside of the courtroom. If you wait months or years to ask your ex to sign the document, the momentum has been lost. Waiting until you are closing on the sale of your house is too late, as you may end up having to beg or bribe your ex to sign. And what if he disappears to another state or country and you cannot contact him? If you can locate him, you can take him back to court to force him to sign the quit claim deed, but your post-divorce life will be much simpler if you simply have him sign it in court.
Lying about assets, or otherwise not fully disclosing assets is a terrible idea. A Marital Settlement Agreement can be nullified by an aggrieved party if the other party does not fully disclose all known assets. Keep in mind that in Florida there is no statute of limitations for a motion to set aside an MSA based upon fraud.
4. CHILD SUPPORT
Not properly calculating child support using the court-mandated Child Support Worksheet will guarantee a wrinkle in your divorce finalization. Even if the parties are in total agreement and sharing time with the children, the judge is required to ensure that the child support issue is addressed. You can make your divorce a lot simpler if you make yourself familiar with the child support guidelines, and agree in writing with your spouse on the payment of child support. While you have the right to waive alimony for yourself, it is not your right to waive support for your minor children.
Waiving alimony when you might be entitled to it is another common mistake that cannot be undone. Yes I know you “just want it to be over” but once alimony is waived, you lose the right forever to seek support from your spouse. In long marriages where there has been a disparity in income, it can be a huge mistake.
6. DEBTS AND BANKRUPTCY
You can sell yourself short by negotiating the allocation of debts as part of a comprehensive property settlement without considering a possible future bankruptcy by the other spouse. If he takes on the bulk of the debts and you split the assets based upon the premise that he is going to repay the debts, it benefits you naught if he later on files bankruptcy. Keep in mind that if there is joint credit card debt allocated in a divorce, both parties are still legally indebted to the credit card company regardless of what the divorce judgment says. So you can be left with an unfair property distribution, and be holding the bag when the creditors come knocking on your door after your ex files bankruptcy. This is real horror show.
7. BEING A SAP
Here’s a thorny one: are you consciously, or not, giving away more than her fair share of the marital estate to the other spouse to show that you’re a “good guy?” Do you have hidden hopes of reconciliation? The cold hard truth is that the marriage is over, and you are not going to win the other spouse back by being generous. Don’t do it. The same goes for trusting your spouse too much during the negotiation process. This is really why you need a lawyer, honey.
Finally, one more tip for after you are successfully divorced: make sure to update your life insurance beneficiaries. While Florida’s estate planning law treats an ex-spouse as though he had predeceased the testator, it’s also a good idea to update your Will after your divorce is final.
The above information is general information, and is not intended to provide legal advice to a specific situation. Feel free to call us for a no-cost consultation at 813-221-3759.