No one likes receiving divorce paperwork. Even when you know your marriage is over, being on the receiving end of a large stack of court documents signed by your spouse and his or her attorney conjures up a lot of emotions and a number of choice words like “#$%!@#!”, “&$%#@$!#”, and…well, you get the idea.
So what do you do next? Below are several common “next steps” that spouses undertake at the beginning of a divorce and some thoughts about each:
Should I call my spouse?: It’s natural to want answers to questions like: why did you decide to do it now?; Why didn’t you talk to me first?, etc. Every relationship is different, and far be it for me to tell you not do to talk to your spouse. In my experience, however, most people don’t get the answers they’re looking for and walk away from these conversations without resolution and even more questions and uncertainty.
There are also emotions and a trust factor to consider, that is, how your desire to believe your spouse affects your judgement about whether you should believe your spouse. Frequently, spouses have an agenda when they communicate directly with their significant others during a divorce: to get what they want out of the divorce. They will too often reassure, threaten, or say whatever they believe is necessary to achieve an outcome that benefits them, not you.
Should I talk to my family and friends?: Your family and friends are an invaluable resource in times of crisis who you should absolutely rely on for emotional support and to lend an ear and hear you out about your relationship.
However, in most cases your family and friends are not divorce attorneys, and it can be incredibly dangerous to ask or rely on them for legal advice. Most of us know people who have been through divorces, and family and friends are usually quick to lend advice about what you should expect during your divorce, what you can and cannot do during a divorce, and what you will get out of your divorce. While they mean well, the advice they give is usually wrong, and relying on it instead of the advice of a professional can do irreversible harm to your case.
Should I hire a paralegal or document preparer to assist me?: There are document preparation services throughout Colorado who advertise divorce-related services like preparing and filing paperwork with the court on your behalf. These services often seem like a good option at first glance because they’re less expensive than attorneys.
BEWARE: Since these services are not attorneys, they are not able to give you legal advice, appear with you in court, and or represent you in any legal sense. They typically don’t know much of anything about Colorado law and do no more than charge you several hundred bucks for forms that you can download online for free from the Colorado Judicial Branch website, fill in the blanks with the basic information that you provide, and perhaps file your documents with the court.
You are then on your own. If the service makes a mistake that damages your case, you are usually out of luck. Since document preparers are not attorneys, they do not carry malpractice insurance.
These types of services are for the most part considered to be the illegal unauthorized practice of law by the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation, the state agency responsible for investigating such offenses.
So what should I do?: Hire an attorney to represent you, or at least consult with a licensed family law attorney ASAP before taking any further action. The money you spend on an attorney very often nets you many times more at the end of your divorce. More importantly, attorneys give their clients the ability to fight for the best interests of their children in a way that is most effective at producing the results they are looking for.
Every day, people starting divorces ignore this advice and choose to go it alone.
Every day, people representing themselves are left disappointed at the end of their divorce, wondering how much better the outcome might have been if they had an attorney.
Don’t make this mistake. You wouldn’t operate on yourself to fix your broken foot, you would go to a doctor.
Divorce is no different. The lives and futures of you and your family are too important to leave to chance. Hire a professional lawyer to give you the best chance for a successful outcome.