When parties have no property, no children, and are in agreement about dividing up their debts and assets before they go to court, the question arises: Why do they need an attorney? After all, they aren’t arguing about anything, there isn’t any house or bank account, she doesn’t want alimony and the kids are grown or there never were any...why pay extra for someone to find problems that aren’t there?
Well, there are a few good reasons to have a lawyer look things over in even the most simple and amicable divorce, no matter how little you think you have to split up. Here are a few things you may have overlooked, or even been unaware you needed to have.
- Service or waiver of service. Even in a divorce where both parties agree to everything, one person has to be the “petitioner” and one has to be the “respondent”, and the respondent still has to be served with process; or else file a waiver of service. The dissolution packet you get from the clerk’s office or online comes with a Waiver of Service document; but it has to be filled out, signed, and notarized. Improper service is one of the easiest ways to challenge a Final Judgment later, if someone changes their mind. Avoid it by having a law-talkin’ person look over your paperwork.
- Financial affidavits. In a Simplified Dissolution there is a way to waive financial affidavits; but some jurisdictions want one anyway. If you fill out the wrong petition, you will have to file a financial affidavit, and can be penalized for failing to do so. At a minimum, you will delay your final judgment while you file an affidavit you might not have had to file. Have an attorney make sure you didn’t need to do it.
- Florida courts require mediation in all dissolutions, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. You will need to have completed mediation before your final hearing can be set at an absolute minimum. Even if you never had an attorney at any other time in your divorce, it is a good idea to have one at or nearby for the mediation, because the mediation agreement is used as the template for your marital settlement agreement. Things people didn’t intend to say often get incorporated by accident into settlement agreements, and then have to be removed later with much heartache.
Finally, if at any time during the process your soon-to-be-former significant other acquires legal counsel for any reason, you should seriously think about getting one. Even if it is for something besides your divorce, the unrepresented party is always at a disadvantage to the represented party. No matter how amicable or simple your dissolution may be, always remember: satisfaction is cheap, regret lasts a lifetime.