Navigating a divorce can be exceedingly challenging. When you add questions such as whether to seek professional legal advice, it can be downright confusing! Read on to learn about DIY divorces and when you should seek an attorney’s assistance.
What is a DIY divorce
A DIY divorce is an alternative to hiring a divorce lawyer to legally dissolve a marriage. They are free except for the court filing fee if both parties agree to the terms and at least one spouse says that the marriage is irretrievably broken. In Hawaii, most divorces are completed without the help of a legal counselor. Here are the steps of a DIY divorce:
- Obtain the necessary documents from the family court website (which may vary for different circuits).
- Fill out the necessary court forms including financial statements and prepare a divorce decree that states what you and your spouse have agreed to.
- If you have children, fill out financial statements, parenting and child support plans, and a partnering and child support guidelines worksheet.
- Submit the proposed divorce decree and copies of financial documents to the family court in person or by mail.
- The defendant must fill out and submit an appearance waiver, which means they are acknowledging they were properly served with the Complaint for Divorce which means they agree to the terms of the divorce decree and that they are waiving their right to a court appearance.
- The plaintiff must submit a document acknowledging they properly served the defendant and confirming the facts that give the court the authority to grant the divorce.
- The court assembles the documents and gives them to a judge until they can review them to ensure the financial statements are correct.
- The divorce is granted, and the court returns the documents to the spouse who filed them to be sent to the other side.
Some of the pros of a DIY divorce are:
- Less expensive.
- Less time-consuming, as you don’t have to meet with an attorney or appear in family court.
Here are some of the cons of a DIY divorce:
- You could make a procedural error which can result in delays or additional costs.
- It can be frustrating to fill out the relevant documents without the help of an attorney.
- You might misunderstand the law on any aspect of the process.
- You are liable if you make a mistake.
- You could make a procedural error, such as not receiving a copy of the divorce documents, which can result in other headaches.
When you hire a divorce attorney, you get a wealth of expertise that can make the process much smoother. Here are some advantages:
- You receive objective advice regarding your rights and obligations and advice from a qualified expert who can ensure you haven’t overlooked any details.
- An attorney can ensure you don’t agree to things you shouldn’t because you don’t have the proper knowledge or expertise.
- Your lawyer can file the documents on your behalf, so you can be confident in the quality of the work.
- They can make sure you are aware of all your rights, which is especially crucial if you don’t control your finances or have less money.
- There are specific situations in which it is especially advantageous to hire an attorney, such as if you have been married for decades and have considerable financial assets, or if you are in a more complicated custody situation, such as if one parent wants to relocate to the mainland.
If you elect to undertake a DIY divorce, consider scheduling a consultation with an attorney so you have a basic understanding of rules for custody, alimony, property division, child support, and other administrative requirements. Or, take advantage of free legal resources, such as the Kapolei Access to Justice Room or
Volunteer Legal Services of Hawaiʻi.
Seth Harris, a senior associate at the PMK family law division, is available to assist you with divorce, and any other family law needs. For more information, go to www.hawaiilegal.com/practice-areas/family-law-2/.