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Internet Divorces: We Can Do It All Ourselves! (Maybe...But I Doubt It)

Aug 17, 2007
There is a rapidly increasing tendency among spouses seeking divorce to do it themselves, without consulting a lawyer at all. In particular, many use the internet to obtain forms and answer a few questions before going to the court house...all to save a few hundred dollars for a consultation, or a little more to retain a lawyer to insure that everything has been properly considered and done appropriately.
In my opinion however, for most couples, obtaining a divorce without ever consulting a lawyer is a bad idea.

Why? Because you get what you pay for: the cookie cutter offered by many internet sites may not cover all the contingencies that are unique to your marriage. In turn, one spouse may be put at risk by giving up valuable rights that they, the spouse, didn't know existed. Consulting an attorney is really the only way to avoid this outcome.

For example, what about health insurance for each spouse? Maybe one spouse is on the other's health insurance policy because her employer (an increasing possibility) does not provide him or her with that benefit. Let us take the case where, the husband's insurance policy obtained through work is providing medical coverage to both spouses. The husband "Travis" has been on the job 3 years. The wife, "Jane" was also a named beneficiary under Travis' policy, but they have only been married for 1 year. However, because of medical reasons, Jane may not be able to get medical insurance on the open market, or if she can at all, her medical condition would be excluded.

Many people would believe that once divorced, Jane is no longer entitled to health insurance policy offered by Travis' employer. That assumption is incorrect, but if followed, could put Jane at risk of being without medical coverage for a significant period of time.

Under federal law, "continuation coverage" must be provided to a divorced spouse for a given length of time. The length of time for a continuation is usually nine to eighteen months; however, the duration of continuation coverage within those parameters is determined by the size of the company.

Additionally, continuation coverage offered by the spouse's employer is often cheaper than coverage bought on the open market and the company policy can't exclude pre-existing conditions from the coverage, assuming the otherwise uninsured spouse can get it at all.

For Jane, if it turns out she is uninsurable, obtaining medical coverage continuously after the divorce may be critically important to her getting medical coverage in the future, when the continuation coverage provided by Travis' employer expires.
The reason is that as someone who may be uninsurable, Jane will be eligible to purchase medical coverage from the State. Illinois is one such state that offers this type of coverage under its "CHIPS" program.

However, in order to qualify for CHIPS immediately, one must first demonstrate continuous coverage for 18 months under the Illinois program to get coverage immediately after the continuation coverage expires. If Jane can't demonstrate continuous coverage for that period, she would normally be put on a waiting list to participate in the CHIPS program. The waiting list poses a significant hazard to any one on it because a person can be on that list for several months. During the period an applicant is on the waiting list, she could be without health insurance.

Needless to say, this could have disastrous consequences for Jane. A medical misfortune could cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars without insurance. To avoid this outcome therefore, it is essential to plan so that the otherwise uninsurable spouse meets the requirements for State provided insurance in advance of the divorce.

Thus, under the scenario mentioned, if Jane anticipates taking advantage of a State sponsored insurance program without a creating a possible gap in coverage, Jane by should purchase the continuation coverage supplied by Travis' employer for at least four months. However, because Jane would have to pay the premium for this medial coverage and the insurance provided by the State later, Jane might want to purchase the continuation coverage to the maximum amount allowable under Travis' policy if it is cheaper than the State sponsored coverage she would have to purchase later.

This is but one situation that illustrates my point: in order to save a few dollars, the spouses could unknowingly create a potentially disastrous outcome that could cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to one spouse. It is doubtful that a couple will ever know all of the potential problems, or the available solutions, present without the aid of a creative lawyer

Thus, even if you believe you know all the contingencies confronting you as a divorcing couple, spend the relatively small amount of money necessary to make sure everything is in order. It could be one of the best investments you ever make.

Disclaimer: Any statements contained herein are not legal advice. Rather, the statements contained in this article are merely the opinions of an Illinois practitioner who currently concentrates his practice in the area of family law.
About the Author
Jeffrey M. Brown is an attorney from Chicago Illinois. With 20 years of experience, he concentrates his law practice on divorce and custody matters. His practice recognizes the emotional component to divorce and provides the client with supportive resources.
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