Why Does Divorce Get So Complicated, Take So Long, And Cost So Much?
It can be simple if you and your spouse have no children, if you agree on everything, and if you aren't going to fight over money. If you have children, the divorce isn't about you and your spouse. It's about the kids. Even if you agree on everything, which is rare, most jurisdictions now require divorcing parents with minor children to attend Child Impact Seminar or other such education.
Think about it. You can walk away from each other. You cannot walk away from your roles as the parents of the children.
One party sometimes hires an attorney and then husband and wife try to hash things out. Sometimes it works. However, that attorney can only legally, ethically represent one of the parties and is duty bound to notify both of you of that fact.
Some courts have a web site with forms and instructions. If you insist on a do-it-yourself approach, use the court forms. Do not use the one-size-fits all guides from a bookstore or website. I've seen them rejected by courts. The quickie kits do not necessarily follow the individual statutory requirements of each state. The courts can also refer you to a certified marital mediator to expedite the process.
One reason most experienced divorce lawyers want a substantial retainer is that once an attorney files an appearance, they acquire duties in their role as an officer of the court. The attorney must make appearances and file certain documents, even where you may not see the point. Separation agreements and other documents may appear deceptively simple, but can challenge even the most patient person. The devil truly is in the details, especially where haggling parties look for disagreement. Even minor issues can blow up.
Some states have rules on "unbundling" of legal services. That means that there is a way around having the lawyer "sign on" to the whole case as described above. The client and attorney can now agree that only limited legal services will be provided without further obligation. The attorney could just initiate the case and then be done. Or perhaps the attorney could be hired just to draft a divorce decree or other document, with no other responsibility.
I have provided unbundled services and in truth, I must report that the results were mixed. If you retain someone to draft document "A", what do you do when you end up in court with problems, after having done steps "B" and "C" yourself?
Bottom line: the less the parties fight the less they will pay. Lingering animosities do not expedite resolution. Courts don't want to hear it. Whether that's right or wrong is for a social commentary, not a legal guide. That's why there are 'irretrievable breakdown' divorces.
I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard a judge say that they don't want to see a 'dog and pony' show at a divorce trial. Don't parade old baggage in front of the court. Work out as much as possible. Go to court only with truly disputed issues.
If you have children, they are the bottom line.