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Pro se divorce: are the cost savings really worth it?

Many people filing for divorce in Florida have seen the end of their marriage coming for a long time. In some cases years, as the spouses wait until their teenagers finish high school and move out of the house.

Often, the couple has had ample opportunity to discuss what a property settlement might look like, i.e. who gets the house, how will the retirement savings be divided and whether there will be any spousal maintenance.

These types of divorces are often referred to as "amicable" divorces, with parties able to sit down at the kitchen table to work out the details. Often, it seems that no attorney will even be necessary and one or both spouses decides to file pro se, or represent themselves in order to save time and money. But is pro se divorce really the best option?

The devil is in the details

What may seem like a simple case of deciding who gets title of the house often becomes more complicated, particularly if the couple has taken out a second or third mortgage or home equity loan. Remember, debt is considered marital property, just the same as dollars in a bank account. The court may not allow you to simply file a quit claim deed if there are debt obligations tied to the mortgage, which your spouse may not have realized when agreeing to the informal agreement.

QDRO - protecting your long-term financial future

Marital property valuation and equitable distribution really becomes messy when retirement funds are part of the equation. The accounts may require a full evaluation by a forensic accounting professional who specializes in the field of qualified domestic relations orders (QDRO), to determine the future value. A QDRO professional will calculate what the interest, earnings and annuity payouts will be in 10, 20 and even 30 years into the future. Dividing retirement savings or a pension annuity is rarely as simple as reading the most recent account balance and dividing by two.

Property settlements can't be modified

Perhaps the single most important reason to reconsider the idea of a pro se divorce is because of the final property settlement. Once handed down, a court judgment can't be modified unless one party can prove fraudulent hiding of assets.

In some cases, pro se divorces are the best answer, but they are not always as convenient or cost-effective as they appear on the surface. Because your long-term financial future is at state, it makes sense to work with an experienced attorney who can help you see over the next hill and down the road after the dust settles on your divorce. Pro se divorce may, indeed, save some money in the short term, but if you have any concerns about your long-term interests, the money you save now can be a short-sighted savings.

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