One of the top concerns people have regarding divorce is, “How much is it going to cost me?” We’ve all heard horror stories of divorces costing upwards of $20,000, 30,000 or more, which leads many people to look for low-cost options, like online divorces or tackling the divorce themselves, sans attorney. Unfortunately, going the cheaper route can lead to mistakes that cost a lot more than paying for an attorney who knows how to protect your best interests.
First, let’s get real about the average cost of divorce in Texas
According to Martindale-Nolo Research, average divorce attorneys’ fees in Texas run about $12,400, or $6,200 per spouse. If you have minimal assets or are able to get an uncontested divorce, your attorney’s fees may be even less. If you have children, you’ll probably pay more in attorney fees to get divorced.
These numbers are important because what you could end up losing due to improperly filed paperwork, forgoing essential legal steps or not understanding what rights you’re giving up could cost you a whole lot more.
How NOT hiring a divorce attorney could cost you big time
At The Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth, clients regularly ask us to fix errors that came up because they didn’t hire a divorce attorney in the first place. Sometimes we can help but in other cases, these folks end up stuck with a divorce settlement they technically agreed to, but didn’t fully understand.
The following are a few examples of those costly mistakes:
Half of retirement or pension lost. One client paid a big price when he decided to forgo having divorce attorney. He thought his divorce 20 years back was final because the petition was filed, and he had signed the divorce decree and given it to his wife. Unfortunately, she never finalized the paperwork with the family court.
Fast-forward two decades to when the client had accumulated a nice military retirement and pension. Now, his wife decides to file for divorce. In Texas, assets and community property continue to accumulate until a divorce is concluded. Since the client’s divorce was never finalized, his wife was now entitled to half of his retirement and pension.
Because he didn’t hire an attorney, the client didn’t know that one of the two divorcing parties was required to appear in front of a judge for a Texas prove up in order to conclude the divorce. During a Texas prove up, a divorce can be finalized and the decree of divorce entered if both parties have agreed on all issues and signed the decree. Not hiring an attorney ended up being an expensive mistake for this client.
Assets lost because paperwork wasn’t filled out properly—or at all. Many people believe filling out a petition for divorce is child’s play. We frequently run into scenarios where people come to us trying to regain assets that were once rightfully theirs, but absent an attorney, necessary paperwork for things like reimbursement claims, property transfers or pleadings for separate property was never filed.
For example, you may think your divorce is simple. She keeps her stuff, I keep mine. You pay $170 and file for an online divorce, thinking you’ve got a deal all worked out, but it falls apart. She walks into court with her attorney, you walk in pro se’ (representing yourself) not knowing you should have filed a pleading for that stuff you owned prior to marriage—your separate property. Now half of your stuff goes to her.
Dividing assets without know what they’re worth. Another scenario that arises frequently when people don’t hire an attorney is that they unwittingly divide property or other assets they didn’t even know existed or know the value of. This may include anything from homes to cars to retirement accounts.
For example, people often agree to divide retirement accounts, where he keeps his retirement, and she keeps hers. What if she finds out a few years later that his retirement accounts were worth 10 times what hers were? Too bad. Those are now divided assets, and she can’t go back years later and say, “Well, I didn’t know he had that $800,000 in retirement” because she agreed to those terms when she signed the decree.
Don’t risk losing what is rightfully yours
These are just a few of the costly errors people can make when they don’t hire a lawyer to help with divorce. There are numerous legal steps and ancillary documents the court considers in relation to a divorce decree, and the average citizen without a law degree isn’t going to understand everything involved. Sadly, our Fort Worth law firm has seen hundreds of thousands of dollars related to home equity, family businesses and other assets lost because someone didn’t want to pay a few thousand dollars for an attorney.
In addition, most people don’t know what rights they have when it comes to child custody or how to make decisions about their children (residence, education, medical, etc.) without an attorney’s insight. A Texas divorce with children is never simple, but a family law attorney can help navigate the process so that the wishes for child custody and visitation are more likely to be achieved.
Bottom line, many people come to us regretting they didn’t hire a divorce lawyer to protect their best interests, including those who thought they had a simple, cut-and-dry divorce. Do you really want to take that risk?
Contact our Tarrant County divorce attorneys for advice
Not only can hiring a divorce attorney be critical for protecting assets, it really helps simplify the divorce process and ensure appropriate legal steps are followed. To find out what our firm would recommend for your divorce case or child custody matters, contact us to schedule a private consultation with our founder Justin Sisemore.
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