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Using Online Divorce Forms
As online divorce sites grow in popularity, it is not uncommon for couples seeking to divorce in Georgia to take on the task of preparing and filing their divorce paperwork themselves. There are many reasons that may lead a couple to forgo hiring an attorney and take advantage of an online divorce document drafting service. Most often the reason stems from the fear that engaging a Georgia divorce attorney will be prohibitively expensive. Although taking advantage of an online do-it-yourself divorce service may seem convenient and affordable, there are several risks associated with online divorce that may cause both parties to the divorce to suffer unnecessary difficulty post-divorce.
Practice Pointer - Free Online Divorce Forms
Before spending money for online divorce forms, you should know that nearly every county in Georgia provides FREE divorce forms that are available online. To make it easier for you, we have provided a resource page for the various counties in the metro Atlanta area: Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Forsyth, Fulton, and Gwinnett County. If your county is not listed, we would recommend a google search for "[your county] superior court clerk of court" and look under the family law section or the forms section.
In fact, it is not uncommon for lawyers to be retained by individuals after they have attempted to handle their divorce action using online or court provided forms. Often those individuals have been left with unsatisfactory results and need the assistance of attorneys to remedy their mistakes. Deciding whether to use online forms or engage the services of an experienced Georgia divorce attorney can be a tough decision. With that in mind, below are several reasons why it may be better to hire a divorce attorney instead of taking the time to do it yourself route:
1. Online divorce websites are no substitute for an attorney - Essentially, using an online divorce website in your Georgia family law case means that you will be representing yourself in the divorce. Online divorce websites that provide form completion services only provide document preparation services. Many of these sites have clear disclaimers that indicate no attorney-client relationship will be formed by using the site’s services. Additionally, many online document preparation sites only do not offer Georgia specific family law forms, but only offer generic family law documents and forms that may not be appropriate for a Georgia divorce or other family law case. Although these sites may claim to offer documents appropriate for any case, family law differs significantly from one state to another, so a form that may be appropriate in a New York family law matter may be totally inappropriate and unacceptable in a Georgia family law action.
2. Children complicate things - As mentioned above, law regarding divorce and other family law matters often vary drastically from state to state. This is especially true when it comes to the issues such as child support, child custody and visitation. For example, a Georgia court will not grant a divorce unless a Georgia child support worksheet and parenting plan have been submitted by the parties. If the parties to the divorce action use an online service to prepare their divorce documents, there is no guarantee that the forms provided will comport with the documents required by the court in divorce matters involving children. Additionally, as many of these services simply require the parties to fill in blanks and answer simple questions concerning their proposed custody arrangement, the resulting custody arrangement may not be specific enough to adequately address the party’s needs.
3. Significant property could potentially lead to costly mistakes - Often, online divorce websites are not well equipped to handle property division beyond the division of personal property such as clothing, furniture and housewares. In situations where one or both spouses own real estate, vehicles, 401k accounts, other retirement accounts, or have other financial assets or liabilities, an online divorce form will not necessarily protect the parties’ interests. For example, in a situation where a couple wishes for the wife to keep the family automobile post-divorce, a Settlement Agreement generated using an online divorce site may simply state:
“Wife is to retain automobile post-divorce. Wife is to be solely responsible for all expenses pertaining to said automobile.”
Although this phrase seems sufficient to effectuate the couple’s intentions, if the couple purchased the vehicle jointly and the auto loan is in both Husband and Wife’s name, Husband could be held liable by the finance company in the event Wife stops making timely payments. In this situation, it would be best practice to include a provision mandating that Wife refinance the vehicle into her name solely to relieve Husband of the financial liability associated with the vehicle. This example is just one of many that show how relying on online forms could potentially open the parties to a divorce up to unnecessary liability.
4. Liabilities may not be addressed appropriately - As elucidated in the example above concerning transferring ownership of a vehicle in a divorce action, online forms may not adequately address liabilities such as vehicle debt, credit card debt, and real estate mortgages. Because the division of marital assets and debts in Georgia is non-modifiable, failing to adequately address liabilities could potentially be a very costly and irreversible mistake.
5. Hidden assets may stay hidden until it’s too late - When a divorce is filed using traditional methods, the court automatically enters a domestic relations standing order. This order,
“[e]njoins and restrains each party from selling, encumbering, trading, contracting to sell, or otherwise disposing of or removing from the jurisdiction of the court, without the permission of the court, any of the property belonging to the parties except in the ordinary course of business or except in an emergency which has been created by the other party to the action.” O.C.G.A. §19-1-1(b)(4).
Additionally, during the divorce process filed using traditional means, each party is required to provide the other party with a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit that outlines that party’s financial assets and obligations. In contested divorce matters, a process called discovery also gives each party the opportunity to investigate the other party’s economic status and assets. On the other hand, online divorce gives a party seeking to defraud the other party the opportunity to move or liquidate his or her assets without being detected. This is the case because parties who use online divorce tools often file for divorce uncontested, meaning they have agreed to asset divorce, child custody, child support and alimony prior to even filing the divorce paperwork with the court. Thus, the protection afforded by the standing order or the discovery process is not enjoyed by the parties.