I’m going to tell you something many people would find shocking. Although I offer uncontested divorces in Dallas and Fort Worth, I don’t believe everybody needs a lawyer for uncontested divorce. Seriously. You can get an uncontested divorce in Texas without a divorce lawyer. People do it every day. There are basic forms available online that you can get for free or for a very low price. No need to pay LegalZoom hundreds of dollars for forms. You can do it yourself and save the cost of hiring a divorce lawyer.
Uncontested divorce lawyer in Texas
If you choose to handle your uncontested divorce yourself then you have to accept the consequences of your work. If you don’t have kids or a lot of assets then there is not a lot that can go wrong. The more to deal with in your divorce, the more opportunity to mistakenly commit yourself to a bad arrangement.
Hiring a lawyer for your uncontested divorce can be a reasonable insurance policy against errors in the divorce decree; but it is not difficult to draft a simple divorce decree. Just understand that there is a risk. All that said, there are situations where an uncontested divorce really benefits from a lawyer‘s involvement. Here are seven reasons why you might want to get a lawyer involved, even in an uncontested divorce.
1. You want to include a non-standard possession Texas order for your children.
The standard possession order includes the typical 1-3-5 weekend schedule; but some people prefer a 50/50 schedule or some other arrangement. There’s nothing wrong with these arrangements and judges will approve them. However, when you use the standard language you must adequately explain the arrangement and include all the necessary details.
The clearer the language in the decree, the less likelihood you will have to spend time and money down the road fighting over a modification of the order. Many self-written possession orders end up in modification where each parent may pay several thousand dollars to file suit to modify the language to create a working custody arrangement.
2. You have a lot of assets but not a lot of disagreement.
Property division is often a source of disagreement and one of the main reasons why people hire divorce attorneys. You may have reached an agreement with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse that resolves your property disagreement. That is a good thing.
However, the property division needs to be included in the divorce decree. You need to make sure the property is accurately described and divided so each side can protect their own property. This is a good idea to prevent future disagreement and to prevent creditors of your soon-to-be-ex from coming after you.
3. You have a lot of debts.
Debt is an increasing problem, whether it is student loan debt, mortgages, car loans, credit cards or payday loans. Although Texas is a community property state, there is no such thing as a community debt. No matter how a divorce divides responsibility for payment of debts, the creditor can always come after whoever incurred the debt. That can create problems down the road for either spouse.
Divorce is a significant cause of bankruptcy because people walk away with more debt than they have income to pay it. It is important to carefully deal with the debts in the divorce decree to protect each party from the other’s creditors. Like assets, once the judge signs off on a property division it is nearly impossible to change it.
4. Your child has unique or special needs.
Your child may have medical conditions that require additional health care or particular adjustments. Like the above issues, dealing with those special needs should be carefully designed and explained in your Texas divorce decree to ensure the needs are properly met. It is important that the decree language carefully define the roles and responsibilities of each parent. There may also be particular health insurance and child support arrangements to include to ensure care is available for your child.
These issues also need resolution. When conflict arises down the road, the parents will want to be able to turn back to the decree for guidance on how to proceed. If the decree cannot provide the necessary guidance then the parents may have to file suit to modify the decree and make the situation more difficult to deal with.
5. You don’t trust your ability to draft a Texas divorce decree.
Drafting legal documents is an art form and you very reasonably may be uncertain about your ability to take something you found online, in a how-to kit, or through a form-building website like LegalZoom, and produce an enforceable divorce decree. There’s no shame in recognizing that drafting court orders is not your area of expertise.
Form-building websites these days are charging almost as much as a lawyer to give you a mad libs-style court order. You might as well get help from somebody who has expertise with drafting divorce decrees who will help you through the judicial process.
6. You want a divorce as fast as possible.
In Texas you cannot get a divorce faster than sixty one days after the date you file for divorce (excluding very serious domestic violence situations). It is possible to obtain a judge’s signature on your divorce decree on that sixty-first day. But here’s your problem. Texas family courts typically require pro se parties to submit their proposed divorce decrees to the court for a Texas divorce lawyer to review before they may be presented to the judge, to make sure the decree contains all the necessary language and isn’t too crazy.
That’s a good thing.
It is a real benefit for people working without lawyers who might get stuck in the system trying to get their divorce but not presenting the judge a decree that includes everything it needs. The problem is that most courts only have one lawyer to review all these decrees. It is not a fast process and there are a lot to review. Some courts move through these decrees quickly but in other courts, particularly in urban areas, the wait time can be months. If you wait on child support payments that may be months of child support you won’t see (another issue a lawyer can help with).
7. You want to make sure you struck a fair deal.
Everything may be good in your divorce. You may feel comfortable drafting your own documents and you have struck a deal on property division and child issues. But you may not feel confident that the agreement is really fair. You may benefit from hiring a lawyer solely to review the agreement and address your concerns. There may be issues with the children or property division that can arise down the road.
A major point of regret in property division is that a deal can seem fair when the decree is signed but down the road turns out to be a terrible deal. There is always financial risk in dividing up assets and debts and it is very easy to inadvertently set yourself up for a bad deal even if the numbers all look fair right now.
A typical example looks like this: during the marriage only the husband contributed to a 401k. In the divorce he keeps the 401k but also agrees to cover the payments on the credit card they used during the marriage, which is in the wife’s name. $20,000 in the 401k and $20,000 on the credit card. Seems like a wash, right? Actually, the wife struck a terrible deal.
The husband gains tax-deferred growth in the 401k in a financial asset protected from the creditor. However, the wife has to rely on the husband’s ability and willingness to pay the credit card. If he stops making payments then it will ruin the wife’s credit report and the creditor comes after her. She can try to sue the husband to recover payments to the credit card but if he doesn’t have money to pay it and he doesn’t have assets available for judgment (some property is exempt from judgment) then the wife is just out of luck. These are the kind of issues divorce lawyers can uncover ahead of time.