Ideally, couples would be able to discuss the end of their marriage and make joint decisions about how to divide their property, how to handle their finances and how to continue jointly parenting their children. Some couples are able to do this on their own and some need help. I encourage clients to work out the basic frameworks of their own agreements if possible. It keeps them in control of the situation, maintains their lines of communication and saves them time and money. I also advise my clients to have an attorney prepare the settlement agreement and handle the divorce paperwork and never, ever sign any agreement before having me review it with them.
You just did a great thing by working out an agreement on your own, so invest some time and money to make sure you are fully informed regarding the impact of your agreement and that the agreement is valid, binding and says what you want it to say. Make sure you’ve addressed all of your assets and that the agreement accurately states what will happen with them. Make sure you haven’t agreed to something that’s not legally enforceable, or if you still want to agree to it, that you understand that it’s not legally enforceable and are aware of the possible consequences down the road. Make sure that all the actions required by both parties to actually implement your agreement are spelled out in the terms. Make sure anyone looking at the language of your agreement will most likely interpret it the same way you do.
Have an attorney handle the divorce paperwork. This includes both the settlement agreement memorializing the financial terms and parenting arrangements (if included) and the paperwork that needs to be filed with the court to get a divorce decree. It may be tempting to save the attorneys fees (you still must pay the court filing fee if you try to do the paperwork yourself), but preparing a settlement agreement is not a simple task and navigating the court system to finalize the divorce is not always as straightforward as it may seem. By attempting to avoid a minimal amount of attorney’s fees on the front end, you run a significant risk of incurring major attorney’s fees on the back end, when you and your ex-spouse disagree about the agreement language and end up in court. No agreement is ever perfect, but you should do everything feasible to make the terms of your agreement as comprehensive and air-tight as possible.
Never, ever, ever sign an agreement without having an attorney (I recommend me, but I might be biased) review it with you. In this case, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. You are making huge, life-altering decisions associated with a divorce or similar situation. Take those decisions seriously and do it right the first time. In most cases, there is no “do-over” if you discover later on that you don’t like the bargain. You only get one shot at a resolution, so make an informed decision.
I encourage you to reach agreements on your own, if possible. But be aware of what you don’t know and when to get professional assistance.