Are you getting what you pay for with a cheap divorce in Texas?

There are a lot of lawyers and non-lawyers offering services for cheap uncontested divorces in Texas. Many of these entities offering cheap uncontested divorces offer prices far below what most divorce attorneys charge. Truthfully, divorce attorneys in Texas often charge $250-400 per hour. Some partners at large law firms charge as much as $1000 per hour. Even a typical divorce attorney charging $250-400 per hour may require a retainer of $5000 just to start working on your divorce. That is a hefty admission ticket and it is no surprise people look for other options for cheap divorces in Texas.

Not all uncontested divorce services in north Texas may provide the right services, even if they offer the right prices. You may be able to get away with using a low cost option; although down the road you may regret the decision when you find out low cost also came with low value. In other situations low cost uncontested divorce services turned into an expensive service once the client realized the original, cut rate deal wasn’t everything expected.

What if I don’t want to hire a divorce attorney in Texas?

Aside from divorce attorneys licensed to practice law in Texas, there are several other services and products sold around the state. Not all of these services are legal and if they lead to a bad result you may find yourself spending a lot of time and money cleaning up after them. Some people get divorces without problems using these other avenues and here are some you will find around Texas.

Do-It-Yourself divorce websites and form kits

There are websites that offer a mad libs approach to legal forms for a few hundred dollars. In some regards these forms are like the form documents attorneys use as a base to draft legal documents for divorces. The missing step here  is unless you are an experienced divorce attorney you may not know how to best complete those forms. You may unknowingly commit yourself to some unusual agreements or your divorce decree may not even be valid under Texas law. If you do not know the legal requirements of the Texas Family Code for a divorce or custody case or how courts interpret particular language then it is risky to treat your divorce like a DIY project. 

Often websites selling these DIY forms promise a cheap divorce but the $100-200 they charge does not include the court filing fees which run several hundred dollars.

Paralegals and other unlicensed practitioners

Unbelievably, there are quite a few rogue paralegals and disbarred attorneys roaming the internet (especially Craigslist) pretending to practice law at cheap prices. They promise to fill out all of your divorce paperwork and walk you through the divorce process. You might get acceptable work from these individuals illegally practicing law without a license; but remember they have either never trained as lawyers or failed to meet the ethical responsibilities of a lawyer. That is no substitute for the services of a lawyer. If these non-lawyers make an error in drafting then you could end up in the same boat as if you had filled out one of those form kits. They may see themselves as offering legal services at an affordable rate but this is really a case of getting what you pay for. These people have no ethical obligations to perform those services with the same ethical guidelines or responsibilities to you as a bar-licensed attorney.

Divorce lawyers with too good to be true prices

There are divorce law firms in Texas that offer unbelievably low prices. Sometimes even cheaper than the DIY options. These firms typically operate on a volume business model. They bring in lots of clients and make a little money off the basic services on each client. That’s not too bad if you have simple needs. However, you really need to look at the add-on costs. Many of these firms charge for each email or phone call and inflate prices to print documents for you. I have seen some of these firms charging $50+ per phone call (even if it is just a status request) and that just gets you a few minutes with a paralegal. That $200 uncontested divorce can turn into several hundred dollars more just in the course of making arrangements to complete your divorce. Read the fine print. 

Even flat fee divorces typically include only specific services by the attorney so it is important to review what is included and make sure the fee agreement specifies what the law firm promises. If the agreement does not include basic tasks like phone calls, emails and court hearings then you will probably find yourself facing a surprising bill before the attorney will go to court to finalize your divorce. 

Websites that outsource work to licensed attorneys

We live in a technology-driven world and legal work is profitable business. There are law firms and tech businesses who work on a technology-driven process to lower costs by cutting down on the legal work involved. Sometimes these are truly low cost options for a fast and affordable divorce. Some of these businesses and law firms split the difference between a DIY approach and hiring a divorce attorney by hiring attorneys to oversee part of their work. The attorneys may review documents or offer to speak with you for an additional fee.

These businesses often advertise that an attorney reviews the work or will speak with you but what are you really getting? Sometimes the attorneys hired have little experience in family law and may spend minutes reviewing the documents before signing off on them. Most of the work may be done by a paralegal who also may not have a lot of experience with Texas divorces.


Issues to consider in a cheap divorce in  Texas

I won’t lie and tell you that you need a divorce attorney to obtain a divorce in Texas. Many people pursue non-attorney options for their divorce and do just fine. On the other hand, I have had more than one client hire me to clean up a mess created by one of these cheap divorce options. Because there was no experienced voice guiding the spouses through the divorce or suggesting solutions to future problems, the spouses were at the mercy of their own luck. Fixing a custody or property issue after the fact is often considerably more difficult if the spouses have to return to court. Sometimes, especially with property issues, there is no absolute remedy to fix a problem down the road. Trying to fix these problems often costs more in attorney’s fees than if one or both spouses hired a divorce attorney in the first place. 

Hiring divorce attorneys doesn’t have to mean spending a small fortune or turn your divorce hostile. If you and your spouse are willing to work out issues without attorneys then your willingness to treat your divorce like a transaction shouldn’t change. Instead consider hiring a divorce attorney as an investment in your future well-being. 

Before choosing a cheap divorce without an attorney consider these issues

What will you do if you need advice on how to deal with property division or child custody issues?

There may not be an option for you to gain additional information about how you should make these decisions or what the effect will be of how you choose to deal with those issues. If there is somebody to talk to, it may be an expensive discussion as part of the hidden fees charged along the way.

What will you do if you get lost in the judicial procedure getting a divorce?

Again, will there be somebody to talk to? The court clerks cannot and will not advise you how to get a divorce. You may find yourself lost amid the judicial process with nobody to bail you out. Most uncontested divorce services have minimal involvement with the courts. If you need help you will likely pay extra for it.

What extra fees will they charge?

You should know up front the fees involved if you need help, communications and copies along the way. The flat fee you pay up front may only pay a limited part of the services you need. If you have a limited budget then it probably harmful to have hundreds of dollars in fees show up along the way.

Is anybody looking out for your best interests?

If you just have forms printed then nobody is looking out for your interests. If you go through some kind of business or law firm then you need to know if anybody is giving you more than just typing up documents for you. Will anybody make sure your divorce actually happens? Or will anybody talk to you about the ramifications of the property division and custody arrangement?

Will the court lump you into the pro se process?

In most counties the family courts divide out the pro se parties and require them to jump through several extra hoops so the judges are not put in the awkward position of having to reject your divorce decree but leave you with no direction how to fix it. (The judge cannot give you legal advice.) Many counties require you to go through special training courses. Some counties will not let you even appear in court until an overworked staff attorney reviews your decree. In some places that adds months to your divorce process because there is such a backlog to review. If you are not represented by counsel who will put his or her name on your paperwork then you are likely going into this very slow process.

How unique is your property division or child custody arrangement?

The more specific and unique your property division and/or custody arrangement, the more likely it is to need very specific language and come along with opportunities for poor drafting to cause long term problems for you. The more unique your divorce must be to give effect to the property division and custody arrangement, the better off you are having an attorney draft and review the language to avoid creating those problems. There is nothing wrong with agreeing to an arrangement with your soon-to-be-ex that works best for the two of you but you need to make sure your divorce decree accurately reflects your agreement.

What will you do if property or custody issues remain unresolved by the divorce?

If you take a stab at drafting your own divorce documents you may leave important issues unresolved. The cost of leaving those issues unaddressed may be several times the cost of a well-drafted divorce decree. Battles over unresolved property or custody issues can be thousands of dollars on each side in legal fees. You could spend a fraction of that money to deal with them in your divorce decree. This is where a non-lawyer may not know to probe about these issues.

How long will it take to produce documents?

Websites and form kits will produce forms immediately; but with a business or law firm you need to know when you can expect to receive your documents. I have seen people wait months for documents. If time is important to you then the speed of drafting matters.

Will you have to pay for each modification of your documents?

Some of the uncontested divorce options discussed above will charge you to modify the documents. Even to include minor changes and even if the incorrect language is not your fault. Do you know about these extra fees before you paid up front? Will it still be cheaper when you have to pay $100 to fix the spelling on your car model?

If there are hidden problems with your property division or custody arrangement, will anybody proactively mention them to you?

A website doesn’t know whether your property division is a good idea. Many uncontested divorce services will spit out documents without any mention of these consequences. Do you consider that good value? An important part of a lawyer’s job is advising clients how to avoid future risks. If you aren’t working with a lawyer to advise you then you have to hope for the best.


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