Is a “Kitchen Table” Divorce a Good Idea?
A recent article in the Texas Paralegal Journal, by Austin attorney Hillery Kaplan, entitled, “The Pitfalls of Kitchen Table Divorce” starts a good conversation about this issue. And it’s a good read for someone who’s contemplating negotiating divorce terms with his or her spouse directly, rather than going to court or looking at an alternative form of dispute resolution–like Collaborative Divorce.
A “kitchen table” divorce is one where the parties use little or no professional help (attorney, financial professional, or mental health professional). She makes some good points about what couples who enter into a “kitchen table” divorce need to remember. These break down into two major categories: the dangers of not involving needed professionals appropriately through the process for technical information or agreeing to something you may later regret–due to being in an emotional state that makes negotiation difficult.
For couples who can work out divorce terms between themselves, it can be a good thing–but this is such an important, life-changing process that it shouldn’t be done without the professional guidance needed in a particular situation (unless the terms of your divorce are so simple that no one could possibly be hurt by an error or oversight)—whether legal, parenting or financial/tax issues which need to be resolved. Many couples in attempting a kitchen table divorce, make mistakes which could have been avoided if they’d involved an experienced family lawyer or other Collaborative Divorce team member. These mistakes include: failing to properly understand the community estate; failing to incorporate important provisions into the parenting plan–such as dealing with passports, where the children will be picked up, having appropriate supervision, etc.; not understanding how child support works or how children’s expenses will be covered outside of child support; Federal income tax issues related to divorce; and many others.
For each client looking for help to get a kitchen table divorce completed, they should consider at least one consultation with a lawyer at the start of the process in which the lawyer can learn about the situation and let the client know what rights and protections he or she has. It’s also advisable to check in with the lawyer (and possibly a mental health professional or financial professional on those issues) during negotiations, before agreeing to anything, to make sure that it’s really the best way to proceed. “Let me think about this and get back to you” is sometimes the best thing to say in divorce negotiations.
Most non-lawyers don’t understand the difference between community property and separate property, and might accidentally give away something that shouldn’t even be on the table. Many divorcing parties do research, and gather information regarding divorce, on the Internet which is either from a different state or is just plain wrong, and try to apply it to their situation.
For some couples, the kitchen table can work, and they're certainly can be financial savings, if so. But, as outlined above, there are many pitfalls without sufficient professional advice, which could be much more costly than the cost of using those professionals in advance. Most attorneys are happy to help clients evaluate the likelihood of “kitchen table” divorce working for them, and, if not, educating them on the alternatives, such as Collaborative Divorce, mediation, lawyer to lawyer negotiation and litigation. Any member of Collaborative Divorce Dallas can help.