The short answer is no. Some couples do choose to resolve their divorce without attorneys and by negotiating issues directly with each other. This process, known as a “kitchen table divorce” or “do it yourself divorce”, potentially saves money by reducing legal fees, at least in the short run. However, “kitchen table divorces” are not for everyone and in many instances can make a bad situation worse. The cost to unraveling mistakes can be hefty.
Here are four questions to consider before embarking on a “kitchen table divorce”.
Are you able to communicate effectively and have difficult conversations with your spouse?
This is an absolute prerequisite to a “kitchen table divorce”. The divorce process brings out a lot of potentially negative emotions in these discussions. In fact, poor communication is one of the leading causes of divorce. If your marriage has a history of unsuccessful communication and conflict moving forward in a “kitchen table divorce” will be difficult and potentially more expensive in the long run. If there’s a history of domestic violence you should not be involved in these negotiations without help. There is an imbalance of power that will override even the best of your intentions. Your safety may be jeopardized without professional help.
Are the issues related to your divorce relatively simple?
For example, are you in a situation where there were no children born of your relationship or are they emancipated (legal jargon for living away from you and supporting themselves)? Or do you have minor children but have worked out issues related to parenting time, support and housing? From a financial perspective, is your balance sheet pretty straightforward (limited assets and liabilities)?
Are you comfortable with filing legal paperwork and appearing in court without an attorney?
Even in simple divorce cases the paperwork process can be a daunting prospect. It’s important that you seek out the information as to how to properly file for a divorce. The right documents must be submitted. In most cases a court appearance is required to obtain the final dissolution of the marriage. That is sometimes an intimidating prospect.
Do you understand your legal rights related to the divorce?
If the answer is no, (and not advice from well-meaning family or friends even if they have been divorced), one option is obtain a consultation with a family law attorney before you try to work out an agreement with your spouse. Another option would be to have preliminary discussions with your spouse and then review those terms with an attorney. Be careful though that your spouse does not interpret suggested changes to the terms you discussed as a change of heart and as reneging on the agreement that you two made. That only creates more hard feelings. Meeting with an attorney sooner rather than later may seem as if you are adding cost but only in the short run. The costs of reversing a bad agreement will be exponentially more costly than the modest cost of a consultation. A good thing to remember is: “You don’t know what you don’t know”.