Whether pest control, carpentry, or how to change a car battery, the enterprising go-getter can now find instructions for just about any project online. What used to take apprenticeships, on the job training, a degree, and copious amounts of sheer grit can now be accomplished by anyone with enough patience to tackle the job.
Divorce is no exception to this “do it yourself” (D.I.Y.) trend, and with advances in modern technology, couples can actually complete the entire divorce process without ever stepping into a courtroom. Which, on its face, might seem like an incredible deal. After all, the price tag on a good attorney doesn’t run cheap, and who doesn’t love saving money?
Before you get too excited, though, here are a few things to keep in mind about D.I.Y. divorce, and why you might want to reconsider sidelining your attorney.
D.I.Y. Divorce Basics
The truth is, no one is required to have a lawyer. Individuals can (and do) represent themselves in legal matters all the time, including the millions who choose to self-represent in divorce every year.
When couples choose this “do it yourself” method, there is no trusty attorney to guide your steps. Instead, you download, complete, and file all paperwork on your own. Think of it like sending Frodo to hike up Mt. Doom without Gandalf. Doable? Yes. Advisable? Ehh, we’ll take the wizard, thanks.
Still, for the stubborn hiker, it can be done.
The Only “Must Have” Requirement
Because attorneys aren’t technically necessary, the only real prerequisite a couple must meet in order to file for divorce in Texas, is residency, which must be met on both a state and county level.
To qualify for state, the Texas Family Code says that at least one of the marital partners must have been living in Texas for six months. County requirements vary, but in Denton, this threshold is ninety days.
Even if you meet this bare minimum, however, there are still other things to consider before jumping right into a do it yourself divorce. Not the least of which is: how big is the fight going to be?
To Contest or Not to Contest?
Texas—like all other states—has adopted no-fault divorce grounds. However, unlike most other states, it also allows individuals to file for divorce under fault. In a fault-based filing, the court is allowed to consider the “bad behavior” of one spouse when making judgments about things like property and alimony. Which naturally, in turn, can spark some pretty hefty controversy.
When a couple doesn’t agree on the terms, this is called a “contested” divorce. Not all contested divorces must be fault-based (since it’s possible to disagree about certain items without laying blame), however, if your divorce is at all contested, you should definitely scrap your D.I.Y. plans. Because once arguments start flying, a competent, experienced attorney will be crucial to helping you navigate the nuances of these complicated legal issues.
Other Things to Think About
In addition to fault and contested, the Supreme Court of Texas strongly advises against a D.I.Y. divorce, if:
- One of you is pregnant;
- One of you had a child by someone outside the partnership while married;
- You have a disabled child (regardless of their age);
- You still have minor children;
- Either of you wants spousal support;
- Either of you owns, or is buying real property; or, if,
- Either of you are involved in bankruptcy.
Even assuming you can check all of those boxes, you might still want to reconsider. Because asking a divorce to run without hiccups is a tall order—even for a skilled attorney—and on your own, mistakes are easy to make, extremely costly, and are not always reversible.
How to Start Your D.I.Y. Divorce
Assuming none of that has scared you off, and you still want to proceed with a D.I.Y. divorce, the Texas state law library is a good place to start your quest for general information. There are also a myriad of other sites, including Texas Law Help, which offer a variety of divorce toolkits, and answers to commonly asked questions about the do it yourself divorce in Texas.
At a minimum, the bare bones package for a do it yourself divorce in Texas requires a couple to file the following documents:
- An original petition for divorce;
- A waiver of service; and,
- A final decree of divorce.
If you don’t know where your spouse lives (or if they failed to fill out the service waiver), you might also need to include a certificate of last known address. These are only the basics, though, and a Neal Ashmore attorney could advice you about any additional documents that might be required.
Even if you’re committed to doing the process alone, we highly recommend at least having an attorney review your final documents before submitting, to avoid any major pitfalls.
When determining which forms to complete, keep in mind that jurisdiction matters—a lot. The divorce process can look drastically different across state lines, so when downloading documents, be sure to double check that your papers are for Texas.
You Get What You Pay For
It’s also possible to get a divorce through websites that offer watered-down legal services in an online, self-help kind of format. Be cautious, though. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. A website boasting a $200 divorce is likely either a scam, or contains gobs of hidden fees, since—on its own—the filing fee for an original petition of divorce carries a price tag of about $300. In those scenarios, you’d probably end up doing most of the legwork (plus filing) all on your own, with minimal help from your invisible, online legal assistant.
Like all things on the internet, take what you read with a grain of salt, and for reliable legal advice, nothing beats talking to an actual attorney.
No matter how fast you want your divorce to be over and done with, Texas law requires a minimum of sixty days after filing before anything can be finalized. This is a restraint that everyone is held to, no matter what type of divorce you’ve chosen.
D.I.Y. Divorce Attorneys in Texas
In the end, money is a stress that is shared across all walks of life, and if cost is the main concern driving your D.I.Y. quest, understand that there are many (less expensive) types of divorce available that don’t involve litigation.
To see how Neal Ashmore can help your D.I.Y. divorce process with minimal attorney involvement, call us today at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online. While self-representation isn’t generally a good idea, there’s no denying that knowledge is power. And it’s only by arming yourself with the best information available, that you can make an educated decision about what choice is right for you.