Do-it-yourself,
Paralegal
or
Lawyer?
Things to Think About

If you see a price quoted by paralegals or lawyers, remember that they are not including the filing fee. All counties in Minnesota charge a one-time filing fee to start a new divorce file, usually $400-425. If you are receiving some form of public assistance or are close to the poverty line, you can seek a waiver of the filing fee and other costs. Lawyers are more likely to help you with that than paralegals.

  • What can a divorce decree do? Besides divorcing you, it can change your name, change title to real estate, give you clear title to your car, and transfer funds from a retirement plan (including IRAs, 401ks, etc.). A lawyer is more likely to draft your decree to accomplish these goals, as well as get your divorce.
  • What CAN'T a divorce do? A divorce cannot terminate your liability to a third party. For example, even if your divorce decree says that your ex is ordered to pay your joint VISA card, the decree has no effect on the VISA bank. As far as VISA is concerned, you are both still responsible. If your ex doesn't pay, leaves town, or declares bankruptcy, the VISA bank will probably look for you, no matter what the decree says. That leaves you with a claim against your ex. A lawyer will have more creative ideas about how to protect you when the divorce decree is drafted in the first place and may prevent you from getting stuck years after the divorce is final. Here is where a few extra dollars paid to a lawyer may save you thousands in the long run.
Child support. Whether you pay or collect, the cost of the advice of an experienced lawyer will probably be earned back in only a few months. Despite what you may hear, there are many facets to child support in Minnesota that even some lawyers don't understand: when overtime should be included, when "potential" income should be considered, who should claim the child as a dependent, how the new child support guidelines work, how vacations factor in, how to divide day care costs properly, when there can be a deviation from guidelines, etc. Even if you do-it-yourself or work through a paralegal, you should at least have a conference with a lawyer about child support to make sure you're getting a fair deal.

Non-marital property. Property you owned before the marriage, property that was given to you or inherited by you during the marriage, and personal injury settlements often qualify as non-marital property. That means you don't have to share such property with your ex-to-be. But what about a house that your spouse owned before the marriage, but was shared by you during the marriage? What about stocks or savings that increased in value during the marriage? A paralegal cannot advise you about your rights in such property.

Real estate--what to do with your house. The forms provided by do-it-yourself counters or by paralegals are very limited with the options they give you on real estate. You may have a plan for your house that doesn't fit the forms. Or you may have questions about what other options you have. A lawyer who is experienced and knowledgeable with real estate may have some creative ideas that are much more suitable to your situation than what the forms provide. Consider talking to an attorney regarding your home.

Spousal maintenance. Formerly known as "alimony," it is often waived, but it does play a role in situations where one spouse has become financially dependent upon the other. If you are going to have trouble supporting yourself, and your spouse is pressuring you to sign papers, see an attorney.

How to reach Bruce D. Kennedy
  • By telephone: 651-633-3713. Voice mail on 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • By fax: Call for number
  • By e-mail: call for email address 651-633-3713