Many people who are considering divorce wonder if they can handle it themselves, without help from a lawyer. But is going the do-it-yourself (DIY) route in North Carolina really a smart way to go about handling one of the biggest and most consequential life events you’ll ever experience?
Since you’re reading this article on a law firm blog, you might expect us to try and talk you out of representing yourself in a divorce proceeding. However, that’s not the case. Under some specific circumstances, a DIY divorce can make good financial sense.
In this article, we’ll talk about what those circumstances are as well as when you should think twice about handling your divorce case on your own.
Remember that to obtain a divorce in North Carolina, you and your spouse must have been separated for one year and one or both of you must have lived in the state for at least six months.
When Can a DIY Divorce Work for You?
Not every divorce is a high-stakes battle. Some couples, especially those who have no children and who have only been married a short time, might not have a lot to fight over. You might benefit from a DIY divorce if:
- Your assets don’t include any marital property which needs to be divided between you
- Your case doesn’t involve alimony
- You and your spouse both agree to the divorce
If these things are all true, then you really don’t have a lot to lose by handling your divorce on your own.
*DISCLAIMER* Under North Carolina law, if you get divorced and you have not asserted claims for equitable distribution or alimony, you’ll lose the right to file and pursue those claims forever. This could be very important!
That’s not to say there’s no reason to contact a lawyer for help with your divorce. Working with an attorney can give you the confidence that every aspect of the divorce paperwork is handled correctly and reassure you that you don’t have to worry about any surprises down the road. And handling even a simple divorce case can be a stressful process for someone with no legal training.
However, if you’re a detail-oriented person who has the time to deal with some paperwork, there’s no reason you can’t handle a simple, uncontested divorce on your own. (If you’re the kind of person who prepares your own taxes every year, that’s a good sign you could likely handle a simple DIY divorce as well.)
To start the divorce process in North Carolina, you’ll need to fill out a Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet, a Civil Summons, a Complaint for Absolute Divorce (available through the Self-Help Center of Mecklenburg County), and a Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Affidavit. You must file these forms with the Clerk of Court’s office in your county.
Next, you’ll need to have the sheriff’s department in your county deliver the forms to (or “serve”) the other party, which requires you to pay a service fee unless it’s waived. From this point, you must wait 30 days before you can go forward with your case; the 30-day window gives your spouse a chance to respond to (or “answer”) your divorce papers.
Finally, you must file a Motion for Summary Judgment, which is a request for the court to conclude a case because there are no facts in dispute, and a Notice of Hearing, which will schedule the date and time for your hearing (your spouse also needs to receive a copy of this document). Remember to keep copies of every form for your own records.
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“I went to another law firm and they turned me down…would not take my case. Myers Law Firm met with me, handled my case and would not back down from insurance company. Even when they had to file suit to protect me for my personal injury and property damage. I received a very fair settlement. Mr. Myers I appreciate you and your staff.”
“Mr. Lee-Thanks to you and Bessie for all of your help last year and most recently with the referral. I sold the house and the kids and I moved 8 days before Christmas. God is good, faithful and true.”
When Should You Call a Family Law Attorney About Your Divorce?
Many people refer to the breakup of a marriage using the general term “divorce.” However, a claim for absolute divorce is simply a claim to obtain a court order that you and your spouse are no longer married. While you have to wait until you’ve been separated for one year to seek an absolute divorce in North Carolina, you can pursue claims for child custody, child support, equitable distribution and/or alimony at any time after separation (and some of those can be pursued before separation).
If your case involves custody or child support, it is not simply a “divorce” case. As soon as children are involved, the issues can become a lot more contentious and the stakes get higher. The outcome of your child custody case, for example, can determine how often you see your children and under what conditions.
In addition, couples who have been married for some time usually have marital property that the court will need to divide, and one of the spouses may seek spousal support (alimony), too. The result is that your divorce case and the related legal matters can affect your financial well-being for years or even decades to come — not to mention determining the nature of your relationship with your children.
If this sounds anything like your situation, trying to handle your own divorce case is probably not a good idea, and you should at least consult with an attorney. By trying to save money on attorney’s fees now, you could end up with an unfair child support or alimony agreement that costs you far more than you would have paid your attorney. And if you end up with a one-sided child custody agreement that favors your ex-spouse, it can cause emotional pain and relationship damage that no amount of money can repair.
Not only that, but a hotly-contested divorce case can be an exhausting process, both on an emotional and practical level. The schedule of filings, court hearings, and negotiations can seem like it never ends, and having an experienced attorney on your side can give you a trusted source of expert advice as well as a calming, level-headed presence when things get intense. In fact, your attorney may be able to talk with your spouse or your spouse’s attorney and reach compromises that you can’t simply because they don’t have the emotional history with your spouse that you do.
Even if you think you and your spouse have managed to reach a mutual divorce agreement that’s fair and reasonable, you should still talk with an attorney to make sure your rights are protected and that the terms of the divorce are in your best interest.
If you agree to the terms of a child custody or spousal support arrangement now and then realize later that the terms are unfair to you, it can take a lot of money and time to try and fix things — much more than if you’d simply worked with an experienced family law attorney to get things right the first time.
Contact Myers Law Firm for Help with Divorce and Related Family Law Matters in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
If you are considering filing for divorce or if you are going through a divorce already, the experienced attorneys at Myers Law Firm are here to help.
From determining child custody to dividing personal property, our team of professionals is prepared to answer any questions you may have and guide you through every step of the divorce process. While we pride ourselves on our ability to get results efficiently through communication and negotiation, our first priority is always to protect your rights and fight for your best interests.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.