Do I Need A Divorce Lawyer If We Agree On Everything?
A couple may easily arrive at a division of their marital assets on their own, but one could be taken advantage of without knowing it, and dividing an interest in realty without causing one or both parties serious problems in the future requires knowledge of the law. An experienced divorce lawyer can explain your rights and minimize the possibility of future problems.
The answer to the question “Do I need a divorce lawyer if we agree on everything?” is… a definite maybe. Not very helpful, right? To answer the question accurately, I would need to know exactly what “everything” is and the precise details of your plan. An experienced divorce lawyer will understand the benefits and problems you could receive and cause by dividing up the marital assets yourself without you understanding Pennsylvania divorce and property law.
For instance, many couples divide things up in a way they consider 50-50, and there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want to do. But did you know that our law calls for – but does not necessarily require – that marital assets be divided in what amounts to an economically fair manner? This means, in a nutshell, that the party whose economic outlook going forward is better should get a smaller share of the assets because that person needs less to survive on an equal footing with the other party, whose economic future may not be as rosy. Here is the most extreme example I know: A doctor in a 40-year marriage making a six-figure income decides to move in with his young receptionist. His wife of those 40 years was a stay-at-home mom for their 4, now adult, children. She has no work experience and a 40-year-old liberal arts degree. At over 60 years of age, her economic outlook is rather bleak, to say the least. Long story short, the Court awarded her 65% of the marital assets. That is the most lopsided example of which I am aware. Of course, there have been many cases where one party wants the divorce so badly that she/he gives 100% to the other party to move on with a new, single life as quickly and, perhaps, as inexpensively, as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that provided that person, in the future, remembers the value that she/he put on that divorce decree and what was given up to get it… and that the lawyer is not blamed for allowing the party to proceed with that decision.
Jointly owned real estate is sometimes one of the marital assets. It may be paid off or may have little, some, or no equity in it (equity being the dollar difference between what the market value is and what is owed). If real estate is part of the picture, there will be a deed. That deed may have both parties’ names on it or just one. The same may be true of a mortgage on the property. The decision of what will happen to the realty may be easily reached, but implementing it improperly can have dire consequences without taking advantage of the knowledge of an experienced divorce attorney. One possible result is that one party, after the divorce, could end up being responsible for paying the mortgage on real estate that party no longer owns! If that was not the agreement, that is truly a disastrous result.
Dividing up money from an account that will be accessible only in the future, like a retirement pension, can be very tricky and may require an Order of Court to make sure it ends up divided – and paid out – according to what was agreed.
The foregoing are examples of things that typically require the expertise of an experienced divorce attorney to resolve and set up; however, in my experience, most couples do not have such assets in their marriages. They rent (or live with friends or relatives) and have only the usual household items plus their clothes and personal belongings to divide. The vast majority of them have been separated long enough that those items are already divided. When that is the case, under Pennsylvania law, when the divorce becomes final, what each party has in her/his possession becomes that party’s sole and exclusive property and any claim that the other party may have had to them is now gone forever by law. (Exceptions to this are items with both parties’ names on them, such as vehicles or financial accounts and these must be addressed before the divorce is granted.)
Then there remains the question of whether or not, once the couple has successfully settled everything, is a divorce lawyer needed to prepare, file, and process the divorce itself? To answer that question, please see my article on Do-It-Yourself (DIY) divorce.