When should you hire a family law attorney and when is it okay to use an online divorce form website to save a little money? This article will provide a few pointers to help you decide whether to do it yourself or retain an attorney.
What Does it Mean to Use an Online Divorce Form Website?
Essentially, using an online form website in your family law case means that you will represent yourself – you are acting as your own attorney. All of the online divorce form sites have disclaimers making it clear that they are not your attorney and that they are just preparing documents on your behalf. While it is your constitutional right to act as your own attorney, there are some significant risks involved that should be evaluated before you take the online route.
Additionally, you have to evaluate the particular website you are dealing with. Most are national sites that offer forms that they claim will work in any state. However, every state has different laws. In other words, a California divorce decree will not look exactly like a Texas divorce decree because the laws of the two states are not identical. So with an online divorce you are basically getting a generic form that may or may not work in your jurisdiction.
What if You Have Children?
While many of the divorce form sites claim to offer forms that address the necessary provisions regarding children (conservatorship, support, visitation, etc.), it is very risky to use these generic forms when you have children. You must remember that your divorce forms are being prepared using online software that simply fills-in-the-blanks with your answers to very simplistic yes/no or multiple choice questions. These answers may not necessarily fit your situation or you may not fully understand the question.
This is where a competent lawyer can make a big difference. A lawyer will learn more about your situation and find out exactly what your documents need to say, instead of just the boilerplate language that the divorce website’s software spits out. If you have children, you should take the safe route and hire an experienced family law attorney.
Do You Need a Family Law Attorney if You Own Property?
Many of the divorce form sites also claim to offer forms that will deal with the most complex of property divisions. But when it comes to dividing any property beyond personal effects (clothes, furniture, etc.), it is risky to rely solely on generic divorce forms. If you or your spouse own real estate, vehicles, 401k accounts or other retirement accounts, or have any other financial assets or liabilities, an online divorce form will not necessarily protect your interests.
A competent family law attorney would be able to analyze your situation and determine what property division is in your best interest and then ensure that all the assets awarded to you were properly transferred and the titles correctly recorded on your behalf.
Using an online divorce form always carries a certain amount of risk. If there are no children from the marriage and no property to divide, then saving a few hundred dollars may be worth the risk to you. But for most people, especially those with children or property, you should really hire an experienced family law attorney.