You may have seen signs like the one pictured above while driving around town. Or if you have searched for divorce information on Google, you may have seen similar paid ads. These companies promise ultra-cheap divorces. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. With ultra-cheap divorces, be assured risks abound.
Ultra-Cheap Divorce = Unlicensed Practice of Law
First, realize these companies are not law firms. At best, these are paralegals or people who have some paralegal experience. At worst, these are people who pulled divorce documents off the internet. Now they want to be paid to plug your name into the blanks. Producing documents is not illegal, but these companies are very likely breaking the law by doing this work.
Unlicensed practice of law (UPL) is a crime in Texas. The State Bar of Texas has a committee who prosecutes companies and individuals who perform legal work without being a licensed attorney. When these ultra-cheap divorce companies ask you how many kids you have or if you own your home, they are committing UPL violations.
How can a company get your divorce right without knowing your assets and children? They can’t. That’s a huge problem with ultra-cheap divorce companies and UPL. If these companies ask enough questions to get your divorce done right, they are committing a crime. Alternatively, if they don’t commit UPL by asking you crucial questions, they can’t get your divorce right.
Ultra-Cheap Divorces and Important Considerations in Divorce
Good family lawyers account for every asset and every circumstance involving children in a divorce. Equity in the marital residence, splitting retirement accounts, division of mineral rights, possession and access to the children, child support, and much more factor into a complete divorce. Consequently, no fill-in-the-blank form can account for all those issues, and that assumes “normal” family facts. What if there is a child with special needs in the family? What if one parent’s work schedule doesn’t fit the standard possession schedule? Can you define community property in Texas? If you can’t then how do you know how to properly and fairly divide the marital estate?
There are literally countless variations in a typical divorce that a competent lawyer can factor into a divorce decree. It’s time-consuming and technical work. Do you think a company can factor all the possible variables into a decree for a few hundred bucks?
Worse, without asking the client the proper questions, these companies likely issue a “standard” form decree. If that document gets entered by the court to finalize the divorce, any omissions in the decree become the order of the court. For example, a failure to include a party’s pension in the decree means the other spouse will never get her share. Faulty decrees prove very difficult and expensive to change—if they can be changed at all. Ultra-cheap divorces can’t account for all the variables.
Ultra-Cheap Divorces and the Divorce Process
These ultra-cheap divorce companies don’t prosecute the divorce. They produce the documents and YOU prosecute the divorce. Do you know how to do that? Can you ask the clerk at the courthouse if your pleadings contain the right provisions? No, you can’t because the clerks are forbidden by law to give legal advice. Do you know how to ask for and set hearings for different results you might want during the divorce? The court staff can’t answer those questions for you either. Even the judge is barred from giving legal advice.
Being unable to file for, set, and appear at hearings during your divorce is a huge disadvantage. But say you manage to set a hearing for any of several common divorce issues. Do you know how to introduce the evidence you need to prove your point? The ultra-cheap divorce company won’t be there to help you.
Ultra-Cheap Divorces and Time
Because you are prosecuting your own divorce, the court treats you like any other pro se litigant. That means the court fits you into the calendar at the court’s convenience. In Tarrant County, it is common for the courts to set trial dates for pro se people 6-8 months (or more) into the future. Meanwhile lawyers are able to use provision in the Texas Family Code to get things done much faster.
To make matters worse, during the months of waiting, the ultra-cheap divorce companies provide no legal protection for you or your assets. Do you need an injunction? Do you need exclusive use of your home? Many considerations go into a safe, efficient divorce that the ultra-cheap divorce companies don’t provide for $300.
Even if your divorce is super easy with no contested issues to be fought out in court, a lawyer can get your case done in a fraction of the time it takes a pro se to finish the same case.
The lure of the ultra-cheap divorce sure sounds enticing. Who wouldn’t love to dissolve a failed marriage for a few hundred dollars? However, the reason divorces cost what they cost is because the work needed to finish a divorce properly is technical, and complex work. Plus, once a decree is signed by the judge, any mistakes or omissions are hard or impossible to correct. Getting a divorce done right is worth hiring a professional to do. When it comes to ultra-cheap divorces, you get what you pay for from companies who produce documents that barely scratch the surface of what you actually need.
Click here to see our related blog post about the dangers of a low retainer in Family Law Cases.
Youngblood Law, PLLC is a Fort Worth, Texas family law firm focusing on helping people get on with their new life by getting done with their old life. This essay is intended for educational use only and is not a replacement for competent legal counsel. If you are facing a family law matter, we recommend obtaining competent legal counsel like Youngblood Law, PLLC. For more information contact us at (817) 601-5345, find us on the web at youngblood-law.com.