When the end of a marriage is relatively amicable, we sometimes hear the parties involved pondering whether they even need a New Jersey divorce lawyer when they agree on everything.
Technically, the answer is no. However, that’s really only if you feel comfortable filing and preparing everything on your own. The fact is, there are numerous pitfalls with a so-called “do-it-yourself” divorce, and a divorce lawyer can offer you the legal advice to help you avoid costly, major mistakes.
For starters, it’s great that you’ve reached an accord on the big issues, but when you say you agree on “everything,” you probably aren’t including “everything.”
What Exactly is “Everything?”
Peacefully parting couples aren’t delusional in presuming they’re generally on the same page. The thing is, they just don’t realize what all “everything” entails. It’s safe to say that most people don’t know what should - or must - be included in a divorce agreement.
It’s just not enough to say, “We’re going to split everything 50-50, including our time with our kids.” For one thing, New Jersey law stipulates that property division should be equitable, which is not necessarily (or usually) the same as equal. A divorce agreement should have:
- A detailed parenting time schedule.
- Specifics about spousal maintenance and child support (if applicable).
- Details about whether life insurance beneficiaries need to be altered.
- Whether and how retirement accounts should be divided.
- Specifics about who’s getting the family home or whether it should be sold and how the proceeds (or debt incurred) should be divided.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. Chances are, there are other considerations specific to your case that need to be outlined.
Properly-Drafted Agreements Make a Huge Difference
Another matter to consider is that a lawyer can help you draft the agreement properly. If you’re able to complete legal paperwork and interpret legal statutes, then you don’t technically need a lawyer to help you through the process. You should understand though that the contents of that agreement are going to govern both yours and your partner’s rights and obligations in the future. If there is a mistake, it can have significant and costly unintended consequences down the road. New Jersey divorce lawyers are educated in legal analysis and legal writing. We can help ensure your agreement is drafted properly.
Even if you both decide you really want to stick with the agreement you have drafted, it’s a really smart idea for both of you to at least ask an attorney to review it before signing anything. Ideally, you’ll each have your own lawyer review the terms through the lens of what is within your rights and best interests, as well as the best interest of your kids.
At the very least, an attorney can advise you on whether an agreement is unfair. This is important for both parties because inherently unfair agreements are going to be vulnerable to judicial scrutiny.
Helping Amicably-Separating Couples Remain Amicable
Some clients are concerned that by involving a divorce attorney, there is a risk they’re going to step in and dramatically alter their agreement. However, unless an agreement is extremely problematic, most lawyers are going to do their best to help you draft an agreement that incorporates all the elements you’re wanting. The more you agree on, the better the chances of that agreement being adopted, assuming it’s legally sound. (Also, the faster and less expensive the process will be, and the greater the chances you’ll be able to maintain civility between you two - especially important for those continuing on as co-parents.)
If your attorney perceives the agreement as unfair or “unconscionable,” he or she will tell you so. We’ll tell you how we think the Judge is going to analyze it, and whether a few adjustments could make a big difference. From there, it’s your decision whether you still want to move forward with the agreement as-is.
Other avenues to consider if you’re really eager to work together are mediation or collaborative divorce. Mediation is a less formal means of dispute resolution in a divorce where both parties work with a single, unbiased mediator (often an attorney) to work through any differences and hopefully come out the other side with a draft of a divorce agreement about which they can both feel comfortable. A collaborative divorce involves both parties and their respective attorneys gather to resolve matters in a non-adversarial way that helps both parties effectively manage conflict and avoid litigation.
Ultimately, the whole point of a “do-it-yourself” divorce is to save you both the time and expense of drawn-out litigation. It’s possible to do both while still ensuring you’re protecting your rights and best interests and avoiding costly calamities down the road by working with an experienced East Brunswick family law attorney.
Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.