The State of Connecticut makes it easy to get divorced without an attorney. Booklets are available at the courthouse and staff is happy to answer generic, non-advice type questions. When I got divorced I represented myself and my ex got an attorney. I was much better off negotiating on my own and even in writing my own divorce decree. My ex was one of numerous clients his attorney had. I was my only client and spent hours and hours on my case. My ex’s attorney was willing to negotiate things away. He did not have a vested interest in the minor decisions, only in settling the matter, where I knew exactly what I wanted and went after it with unwavering tenacity.
Here are the top things to remember if you are representing yourself.
1. Don’t let it be personal. I had to keep my emotions out of it. Divorce cannot be about hurting your ex; it is about receiving a fair settlement to start over with. I was only able to represent myself well because I treated it like a business deal.
2. Write your own decree. I asked a few friends to see their separation agreements and then wrote my own as a starting point (rather than letting my ex’s attorney provide one). The attorney was happy to let me do this and I was able to put small words in there that were to my benefit. For example, my agreement reads that the father shall have access to the children and shall return the children to the mother – not that pick-up / drop off will be at a certain location. That wording alleviates me from being in contempt if I am not at a certain place at a certain time.
3. Ask for more than you want. Divorce is about negotiation. No one is supposed to leave happy, but I did. I did not want to seem petty by asking for everything but I did ask for a lot more than I actually wanted. I started with a list of the things that were most important to me. I then said I wanted things I did not really care about but knew my ex would (like his grandmothers antique table and a large sum of alimony.) Then I asked for the entirety of some items that I knew should be split between us, like the right to claim both children on the income tax and the retirement plan.
4. Do not let the attorney intimidate you. If someone is trying to intimidate me over the phone, I request that we only communicate through email. I did not have to do this with my own divorce as the attorney was very pleasant in negotiations. I was pleasant as well and was willing to give and take (give the items that were not important to me or I knew I would lose and take the top items that were most important to me).
5. Negotiate backwards. I started with the items I knew I would not win anyway. It established a repore and set the tone I was willing to be fair. I negotiated the smallest things that were on my important list with these items. For example, I gave him the right to claim the oldest child on the income tax return in exchange for keeping all the camping equipment. Then I moved to the things that were important to him, but completely unimportant to me. Here is where the tough negotiations begin. I knew these things were important to him, so I traded the stuff that was important to me. I ended up with everything I wanted plus a few things I was not counting on.
6. Protect yourself for the future. There are things I added to the agreement to protect myself in the future. I reduced the amount of alimony further in exchange for adding a clause that my ex would pay $1 per year alimony for 5 years past the weekly amount. This allowed me to revisit the issue if necessary. I also added a college clause, stating that we can revisit the issue of college cost at a later date. I added a provision for daycare costs if the need arose. I also added that he would name the children on a life insurance policy.
A do-it-yourself divorce can be stressful, but beneficial. With a little bit of research and talking to friends that have already been divorced, I did better for myself than any attorney could have done. I have never regretted representing myself and it did not cost me anything to do it.
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