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The New Court Forms Are Awesome, But….

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM TO THIS BLOG: The Arizona Child Support guidelines changed July 1, 2015. While finally in February 2016, the court forms referred to the new calculator, they still refer to required forms that are NOT included in the court form packet.  If you do decide to use the court forms, you will want to get outside assistance in obtaining all of the required forms.)

In September 2015, the Pima Count y Superior Court re-did the self-service divorce forms, ie: the forms available to the public to use without an attorney. This is something quite important, as not everyone can afford an attorney. (In fact, around 86% of divorces are filed in Pima County without an attorney.) And whereas in the past, the forms were somewhat difficult to understand, the new forms avoid a lot of “legalese” so are fairly clear. Thus I am quite impressed.   Unfortunately (though no fault of the creators of the forms), there are some pitfalls. As they are still forms. And divorce isn’t one size fits all. So we get calls a daily basis from people who have looked at the forms and for one reason or another still need help.

First, even a basic divorce with no children and no property has close to 100 pages to download and print. (And obviously if there are children, there are more.) And that’s just to start the divorce, not the final papers. So you need a decent printer and a LOT of toner. Not something everyone has. Or wants to do.

Then there’s the hassle of completing the forms. They’re not interactive, so it’s handwriting in everything. And some things –like name and address. – writing it in over and over again. All no big deal, but certainly a hassle.

Then there’s understanding not only how to fill the forms out, but which you need.  Yes, the instructions are improved over the past, but people still have many questions, mostly “what if’s” – What if he doesn’t sign? How long can I wait to complete a certain task? What if I change my mind about something? What if I make a mistake? And general instructions can only address so much. Which leads to my next concern –

Not only do people’s situations vary as to what is involved and how things are handled, but also how much detail is needed. As the main question people ask is do you need to be as specific as the forms make it look like you must be?  And the answer is maybe. And while we’re not attorneys and cannot give legal advice, we can provide legal information. Including what’s required, what’s not, and in general, when detail might be important…or not. And once we provide this general information, most people can then decide what to do. But the court forms – because they are forms – make it look like everyone has to do the same thing.

Further, while the court forms make it look like a lot of detail is needed where it might not be, there are other things where the forms make it look much simpler than it is. So there may be pages for detail about something like household furnishings – which you may not need, there may be just a few lines for something like real estate -for which you may want more.  As it might not be enough to just say who gets the house, but under what conditions – Do they have refinance it? Do they have a time limit to do so? Do they have to buy out the other person’s interest?  What happens if they can’t qualify for the refinancing? And what happens in the meantime, until the house is refinanced or sold – who lives there, makes the payments? Sure, a lot of people just put “we’ll agree”, which might be okay. But then you might want to at least add what happens if you can’t agree. Not only is this a lot to squeeze onto the few lines provided on the court forms, but few of these “what if’s” are addressed in the forms. Whereas going through a qualified attorney or legal document preparer may allow you to address these things. (IMPORTANT:  The biggest mistake we see people make in the court forms is to say that their spouse keeps the house. Not realizing that they may remain liable for the mortgage.)

While deciding what kind of detail is important and/or needed when it comes to property, it’s more so when it comes to a divorce with children. Particularly younger ones. But even with teenagers, there are things that may seem silly to address, but must be. On the other hand, there are things in the forms that appear must be addressed, but don’t have to be. So many people skip over stuff in the forms thinking it’s not important in their case (or they just say “as agreed upon”), only to run into problems at court. And others will spend a lot of time filling stuff out only because they thought they had to (as it was in the forms), but they could easily have left it out.

Also, because the court forms list many options and you just mark which one you want, sometimes that can open up a can of worms. As your spouse will still see everything you COULD have chosen.  And may then question why you chose “A’ instead of “B”. At Divorce Packet Processing, we don’t use “fill-in-the-blank” forms, but forms custom to each client’s needs. So we put in only what is wanted. And leave out what is not. Not only does this make things less confusing and avoids that “can of worms” issue, but it saves a LOT of paper! (Do you really want a divorce decree to keep for your records where most of its blank? Or do you want just a simple few page decree that just lists what was in YOUR divorce?)

Last, even if you can figure out the forms and fill them all out, there’s still the leg work. In most divorces, there are several trips to the court throughout the process. So you really want to deal with not only understanding when you have to do what, but remembering when you have to do it? And dealing with the parking downtown to do it?

I’m not saying the court forms are bad…not at all. As they are so much better than they were. And I’m proud to be in Pima County, where we have this option. As in reviewing forms elsewhere, I think we have some of the best self-help forms. But they are still forms. And, as said, divorce isn’t one size fits all.