If You Think It Is Expensive to Hire a Professional to Do a Job, Wait Until You Hire an Amateur

Family LawLike everyone else, I have to be careful with my money, and, whenever possible, I try to do a job myself rather than hire a professional. There are plenty of outlets to help you do it yourself in order to save a buck, including TurboTax, Home Depot, and various YouTube channels. This now applies even to legal matters. Plenty of people download forms from Intuit and other sites in order to make a will or lease property.

A few years ago, the Texas Supreme Court decided to provide forms that would allow people to handle their own divorce. The goal was laudable. Many people don’t have discretionary income to spend on a lawyer but make too much to qualify for legal aid. The forms provided are intended to be used by couples who don’t have a marital estate, property, or minor children. However, the implementation of this program has been nothing short of nightmarish. I don’t believe anyone other than a trained legal professional is capable of using these forms correctly. Even for legal professionals, the forms are confusing. Moreover, numerous people with minor children, or a marital estate, or other property try to use the forms.

Ask any attorney who practices family law, and they are likely to have plenty of horror stories about people who used the forms incorrectly, with devastating results. One woman came to me because she was trying to get her share of her ex-husband’s retirement account, and the retirement administrator told her she would need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). She had done the divorce herself using the forms published by the Texas Supreme Court. Their children were all grown. They didn’t have any property other than personal items (or so she thought). So why not use the forms? It turns out she did not award the retirement account to herself in the divorce decree. Thus, a QDRO was not possible. Yes, she probably saved a few thousand dollars on the divorce, but she lost several thousand dollars and a lifetime of income by doing it incorrectly.

In another instance, a woman had a sexual encounter with someone other than her husband during the course of her marriage and wound up pregnant as a result. Genetics being what they are, in time it became apparent that the child was not “of the marriage,” and the couple divorced. Once again, in order to save money, the couple handled her own divorce. Neither she, nor her husband, hired an attorney. They completed the forms incorrectly, and now, because of that, the husband is the legal father of the child. Eventually, the Office of the Attorney General, Child Support Division, intervened because the woman could not afford insurance for the child and applied for Medicaid. Following standard procedure in such cases, the Attorney General filed suit against the former husband to have him pay child support and provide medical coverage for the child. The ex-husband protested that he wasn’t the father of the child; nevertheless, the court ordered him to pay child support for several years. The couple attempted to have the biological father named as the child’s legal father, but the time allowed for doing so had run out. The entire mess resulted from the fact that the couple used free forms to get divorced so they could save a little money.

These are only two examples among many. If you think it is expensive to hire a professional to do a job, wait until you hire an amateur. If you find yourself in need of a divorce, child support, or a will, call one of the professionals at Bailey & Galyen.