Yes, you can do all of your divorce without a lawyer, though the paperwork and rules can be intimidating, and it is easy to make costly mistakes. The state has published standard forms for doing it yourself (and lawyers are required to use the same forms). However, if you do find that you need help, we can give you whatever level of assistance you need.
If you have children, you will need to understand the state’s guidelines for calculating and setting child support, and become familiar with parenting plans. The Court may check your child support orders and parenting plans to make sure they adequately protect the children, but will generally not second guess the choices you make about property division and spousal support.
Because the court will not be checking your paperwork over carefully, you need to make sure the paperwork is done properly before you take it into the court. ALL property and debt should be divided in the decree, not just the obvious items. If something is left out, then it is potentially still community property (or debt), which means you could be subject to claims down the road. I usually try to include some language to cover things that are not specifically itemized, such as “the Petitioner is awarded all other property currently in his or her possession”.
When preparing a parenting plan, think about the things that could possibly go wrong and try to put in language addressing those potential issues. I have had clients who think they don’t need to put much in their parenting plan because they get along OK and figure they’ll work out any issues that come up. I usually tell those clients that the parenting plan still operates as a backup – even if they don’t generally follow the parenting plan, if something does comes up that they disagree about, it really helps to be able to look back to the plan to find the answer, rather than having to go back to court for a decision. If Dad made plans to take the kids fishing on Saturday, and Mom made plans to take them to her sister’s, they should be able to look at the parenting plan and be able to tell who actually has the rights to that weekend.
I often find that clients have started their divorces themselves, but ended up overwhelmed by the paperwork and come to us to help them make sense of it all. Even it the clients don’t want to have us represent them in the divorce, we can help them draft the papers they need to complete their divorce themselves. When we assist clients without stepping in as their representatives, this is called Pro Se Legal Assistance or Unbundled Legal Services.
If you would like assistance, it is better to see us earlier rather than later. Often clients ask if they should do the papers themselves and just bring them in for us to review. I actually find that if often works better to just let us prepare the documents from scratch. Since much of the document generation is computerized, we can often prepare the documents for you faster than it would take us to read over everything you have written and mark up suggested changes by hand.