A Wise Man Once Said, "He Who Represents Himself Has a Fool for a Client." ~ Abraham Lincoln
Updated: Apr 2, 2018
No truer words have been spoken, especially in family law, when clients write their own property settlement agreements or they trust their spouse enough to just sign a document without having it reviewed by an experienced family law attorney. Time and time again, clients come into my office facing legal problems because of a poorly written property settlement agreement or custody agreement. When questioned, they admit that they drafted the document themselves, or it was drafted by their spouse and they never had it reviewed by an attorney before they signed it. Unwitting people believe that the abundance of information and forms on the Internet enables them to act as their own lawyers, and erroneously think it will save them money. In the long run, drafting your own agreement or failing to have an attorney review an agreement drafted by your spouse winds up costing, not saving money. It’s not just a financial cost, it can also affect your custodial rights where you thought you had more custody time or rights, but you don’t because you didn’t understand what you were signing. Non-lawyers often use legal language or legal terms of art inappropriately or omit important provisions that could protect them. Alternatively, when lawyers use terms of art, the words are carefully chosen to express a specific intent, as understood by other lawyers and judges, and may even be state specific. If you use legal terms incorrectly, it could have a meaning completely different from what you intended. You could also be agreeing to something and bargain away certain rights for something that cannot be enforced. For example, in Pennsylvania, we often see provisions in self-prepared property settlement agreements that indicate that Party A is not going to seek child support against Party B. Party B might agree to pay something extra or give up some other claim because he or she thinks they will never have to pay child support. An experienced family law attorney would advise Party B that a waiver of child support is not enforceable which means at any time after the signing of an agreement, Party A can file for child support against Party B even if this provision exists because child support cannot be waived under Pennsylvania law. Moral of the story…do not write your own property settlement agreement or custody agreement. Drafting those types of agreements is a complicated task and an experienced family law attorney will be able to ensure that your rights are protected and that you understand the terms, especially when it comes to alimony, property division, child support, and custody. Do it yourself agreements can cause you to be exposed to financial and emotional headaches in the future. Should you, however, chose to write your own property settlement agreement, at the very least, have it reviewed by an experienced family law attorney in your area BEFORE you sign it. I can guarantee, a consultation with an attorney will save you money in the long run.