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Is it better to negotiate our own divorce agreement if we can?

If you are pursuing a divorce in Virginia, you have several options for how to proceed. While these options lie on a spectrum, they generally fall into three categories.

You may hire attorneys for litigation, use a mediator to help you come to an agreement or negotiate the terms of your divorce independently.

Independent settlements

Most splitting couples would love to work out their divorce terms without having to involve a third party, but negotiations between separating spouses can be fraught with tension. Many couples find that they need an arbiter to help them come to a fair and reasonable agreement, particularly when one spouse is more disagreeable or takes advantage of the other.

Furthermore, a new study by the University of California Los Angeles has found that, internationally, independent settlements are only advantageous for those with low income who are not able to afford any attorney or mediator.

Legal professionals

The researchers found that for both middle-class and wealthy couples, the additional cost of hiring a legal professional paled in comparison to the benefits of avoiding pitfalls and errors in paperwork. Loopholes and verbal agreements can be minor in some cases but catastrophic in others — particularly when your divorce involves custody decisions, high-asset property division or financial support agreements.

The study cited common mistakes that couples make in independent settlements. Failing to determine which parent is responsible for a child’s expenses frequently leaves one parent financially burdened with no court order to hold the other accountable. Researchers also report that spouses often fail to establish contingency plans for financial and other hardships. Poorly constructing wording in your agreement or failing to include verbal agreements can leave loopholes that cause considerable grief later.

The UCLA researchers ultimately found that divorcing couples with means tend to benefit from hiring an attorney, legal professional or mediator to help work out the terms of their divorce.