4 Potential Risks of a “Do It Yourself Divorce” by Mutual Consent in Maryland
Do It Yourself Divorce in Maryland: Short Term Convenience, Long Term Problems? | Howard County, MD Divorce Lawyer
Until September 2015, if you wanted to avoid a fault-based divorce in Columbia, MD (adultery, extreme emotional duress, etc), you had to live separately for a full year before you could get an absolute divorce – the standard divorce in the state of Maryland. However, recent changes to Maryland divorce law have removed this requirement as long as certain conditions are met. As a result, the “do it yourself divorce” is becoming increasingly common in Howard County, Maryland.
What is A Divorce By Mutual Consent?
Recently, the State of Maryland updated its divorce laws so that another option, the “Divorce by Mutual Consent,” is available. This type of divorce permits couples to work out the terms of their planned divorce without having to live separately and incur separate costs – hence, the term “do it yourself divorce” (DIY divorce).
Who Can Get a Mutual Consent Divorce?
For practical reasons, the “Mutual Consent” divorce is limited to couples who do not have minor children in common. Therefore, there is no custody issue to work through.
If couples meet this bar, they must do the following three things:
- The couple reaches and signs a binding agreement as to alimony and a division of property,
- Both agree to appear in court for the absolute divorce, and do appear and
- Neither files an opposition to the agreement before the divorce hearing.
How Do You Protect Yourself and Still Take Advantage of This New Opportunity for a Mutual Consent Divorce?
For this process to work, then, the agreement to divorce must be mutual and fairly amicable, or at least civil. It could seem, in such a circumstance that all you need is standard paperwork. Forms are available on the web, so why not just download, fill out and show up for court? It sounds like a straightforward process, right?
It is important to bear in mind, however, that while the agreement may straightforward, your personal situation likely is not. A form divorce agreement is still a contract. Just like any other contract, it is binding. Form contracts, however, do not take into account your personal circumstances. You want to consult with a professional that will consider the legal rights and long-term responsibilities that this contract will bind you to before the court.
4 Key Points to Consider Before Pursuing a Do It Yourself Divorce by Mutual Consent
#1: You are Not Just a Form; You Likely Have Assets, Liabilities, and Plans for the Future
Standard forms can lead you to divide unshared liabilities and debts, not only assets. Some are complex and have clauses you may not understand. There can be tradeoffs that you may decide not to make after you thoughtfully review your financial vision for the future.
An agreement to pay alimony or to keep property in exchange for equity can seem simple. Sometimes, though, people can put themselves in positions they cannot afford when feelings are driving the equation.
#2: The Judge Will Not Closely Review Your Agreement.
Judges do not do a comprehensive review of your divorce agreement with your future and wellbeing in mind. If both parties agree, but the contract is detrimental to one or both of you, there will be no one to provide feedback or direction. It will be approved, and as mutually agreed upon contract, it is binding. Most people will agree that a contract with a long-term impact, such as a contract to purchase real estate, should be reviewed by a professional. A divorce agreement is certainly no exception.
#3: If You Don’t Have Impartial, Well Informed Advice, You May Never Know What You Are Missing.
Professional counsel brings to the parties’ attention details they may not understand. It also informs about what is MISSING from the agreement that the spouses either forgot about, or would never have thought or even known about in the first place. Likewise, without impartial counsel, you will not have guidance as to potential pitfalls. Just as when you agreed to marry, you are making a decision that will have a significant impact on your future.
Perhaps what people most need during the emotional, stressful and painful time when a commitment that was expected to last a lifetime comes to an end, is impartiality from a source strictly focused on your interests.
#4: Do Not Underestimate the Value of Good Advice
An experienced attorney will have the forethought to caution clients on potential issues that can arise down the road if the agreement is not comprehensive. Without some guidance and insight, it is easy to want the process to be over, and if one party takes the initiative, the other party can end up just agreeing. It can be just as bad if both parties agree to sign anything to get away from the pain of a relationship that is ending without a vision for their future.
While a do it yourself divorce by mutual consent using standard forms is certainly a quicker and less expensive option in the short-term, the long-term consequences can be quite expensive if the process is not well-executed. Divorce is a permanent change in your situation that will have lifelong consequences. The benefits of a divorce by mutual consent can be balanced by good advice that will enable you to protect your interests.
Attorney Fred L. Coover is a Howard County, MD Divorce Lawyer who has been practicing divorce and family law for over 30 years. Let the Coover Law Firm based in Columbia, MD help you reach an agreement that protects your interests and allows you move forward into your post-marriage life on solid footing.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general educational & informational purposes only. It is not intended to convey legal advice or serve as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.