The short answer is “NO!” Without the help of an attorney who practices divorce law, you may be making decisions that will cost you thousands of dollars and jeopardize, if not destroy, your objectives. Individuals have come to us after handling their own divorce wanting to undo what they have done. It is critical you speak to an attorney licensed to practice in the State of North Carolina before you try to handle your own divorce.
There are a number of companies that purport to prepare documents that you can file to obtain a divorce in the State of North Carolina. Some even guarantee that your documents will be accepted by the Court. A brief Google search for “NC Online Divorce” immediately revealed four companies that claim they will prepare documents you can file for an uncontested divorce for less than $300. Of the four, all clearly disclaim that they do not provide legal advice.
Therefore, none can advise you on whether you should file for divorce and how devastating it could be to you if you do file for divorce without consulting with an attorney.
As one example, once you obtain a divorce in the State of North Carolina, you cannot file claims for property division (equitable distribution) and spousal support (alimony, post separation support). The four identified are briefly discussed below:
- North Carolina Divorce Online (northcarolinadivorceonline.com): It appears from their website that as of 1 September 2009, they charge $195 to prepare a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, they do not handle “contested divorces,” and they expressly do not provide legal advice. [Note: Petitions are generally filed in Special Proceedings in the State of North Carolina and are not used to obtain a divorce. A “Complaint” is normally filed for a divorce; Rice Law, PLLC does not recommend you use an individual not licensed to practice law in the state of North Carolina to prepare legal pleadings].
- DivorceWriter (divorcewriter.com): This Seattle, Washington based company says “you can save money and time by completing your own divorce if you and your spouse agree on what to do with your assets and agree on the care of any minor children.” It appears they charge $149 to prepare documents for an uncontested divorce. They also expressly disclaim that they do not provide legal advice. [Note: Rice Law, PLLC does not recommend that you use an individual not licensed to practice law in the state of North Carolina to prepare legal pleadings.]
- CompleteCase (completecase.com): This Seattle, Washington based company disclaims that they don’t provide legal advice, they charge $249 to handle an uncontested divorce. [Note: Rice Law, PLLC does not recommend that you use an individual not licensed to practice law in the state of North Carolina to prepare legal pleadings.]
- LegalZoom (legalzoom.com): This Los Angeles, California based company disclaims it is not a law firm, does not provide legal advice, and charges $299 for a marital settlement agreement. [Note: Rice Law, PLLC does not recommend that you use an individual not licensed to practice law in the state of North Carolina to prepare legal pleadings.]
In addition to online services like those above, individuals sometimes seek help from another person, sometimes a paralegal, to help them prepare legal documents. The North Carolina State Bar says, “Sometimes individuals and businesses represent that they can provide legal services or help to prepare legal documents for members of the public even though they are not lawyers. They may be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Under North Carolina law, only licensed attorneys may provide legal services or prepare or help prepare legal documents for another person. The North Carolina State Bar is authorized to investigate and act on reports of the unauthorized practice of law.” For more information, see The North Carolina State Bar’s Web site.
In North Carolina, preparing a court document is the practice of law. See State v. Pledger, 257 N.C. 634, 127 S.E.2d 337 (1962), and N.C. GEN. STAT. §84-2.1. That statute says:
The phrase “practice law” as used in this Chapter is defined to be performing any legal service for any other person, firm or corporation, with or without compensation, specifically including the preparation or aiding in the preparation of deeds, mortgages, wills, trust instruments, inventories, accounts or reports of guardians, trustees, administrators or executors, or preparing or aiding in the preparation of any petitions or orders in any probate or court proceeding; abstracting or passing upon titles, the preparation and filing of petitions for use in any court, including administrative tribunals and other judicial or quasi-judicial bodies, or assisting by advice, counsel, or otherwise in any legal work; and to advise or give opinion upon the legal rights of any person, firm or corporation.
One of reasons for this prohibition is that practicing law is not just “filling out forms.” There are model pleadings for a divorce but completing such forms yourself or with the assistance of a non-lawyer can result more than just sloppy documents — it can result in a loss of your legal rights. The founder of this Firm is known to say, “Anyone can handle their own divorce. You can also perform brain surgery on yourself, but that doesn’t mean the patient will live.” Whether you use our online Virtual Law Office where we, licensed attorneys in the State of North Carolina, provide legal advice to clients and help them prepare the documents they need or use another attorney licensed in the state, use an attorney! We don’t recommend you do it yourself or use an unlicensed online service.
As an aside, we currently charge $200 for an online consultation to determine whether you should file for divorce and include other claims. If you only need a divorce, we will prepare the documents for you for any county in the State of North Carolina for no additional fee.
Rice Law, PLLC is not affiliated with any of the companies shown above. The information is believed to be accurate based upon representations on the companies’ Web sites. We do not recommend that any North Carolinian handle their own divorce without the advice and assistance of a lawyer licensed to practice divorce law in the State of North Carolina. We expressly do not endorse any online divorce service and make no representation regarding whether it is the unauthorized practice of law as that would be for the North Carolina State Bar to decide.
Published September 20, 2009 | Authored by Mark Spencer Williams, Esq. and Managing Member, Rice Law, PLLC