Divorce can be incredibly expensive if approached the wrong way. The average cost of divorce in the U.S. falls between $12,000-$15,000 and largely depends on the circumstances. Although every case is different, all couples have common concerns, mainly how to survive a divorce financially and lower the price tag. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to save money in a divorce.
1. Alternative ways of dispute resolutions.
Collaboration and mediation are two comparatively inexpensive methods to resolve conflicts outside the courtroom. Both ways are based on negotiations between the parties resulting in a settlement agreement. Collaborative divorce usually involves each spouse’s lawyer and a few other specialists, such as a financial expert or a divorce coach.
On the other hand, mediation does not require the parties to come with their attorneys, making this method cheaper than collaboration. If the degree of conflict between the spouses is moderate, two or three mediation sessions would be enough to resolve the differences.
2. Do-it-yourself divorce.
A DIY divorce is a great way to save money, but this option is not for everyone. Only couples who can agree on all issues before going to court can represent themselves without lawyers.
Spouses with highly contentious cases should seek legal consultation. Without any knowledge and understanding of applicable laws and procedures, it is almost impossible to avoid mistakes that sometimes cannot be undone, as in property division.
“Choosing to represent yourself in your divorce case means that you won’t have to pay $250-300 per hour to a lawyer and can cross out the biggest expense in every marital breakup,” comments CFO of CompleteCase.com Jim Elgart. He adds that the overall cost of the matter for lucky couples who can settle their terms before going to court does not normally exceed $1,500.
3. Getting divorce papers online.
Divorce over the Internet is a smart option for couples with an uncontested divorce. “When it comes to solving divorce problems, the things you can do yourself are more effective than anything an attorney can do for you,” says family law attorney Ed Sherman. He believes that if couples could settle property division, support, and parenting out of court, there would be nothing left but some paperwork.
Therefore, the main task of all couples amicably parting is filing required documents with the court and waiting for the final judgment. Since these papers are standard in each state, the spouses just need to find and fill them out.
Online services offer to complete this task for a small fee, usually ranging from $100 to $500 depending on the packet of additional assistance.
4. Collecting financial documents independently.
Detailed financial information is required to have a fair property division and spousal and child support award. Lawyers often give their clients a checklist of what documents they should collect, such as information about bank and savings accounts, real estate, retirement plans, personal property, insurance policies, etc.
Providing the correct information to a lawyer without delays reduces the time they spend on your case. They won’t have additional questions or discussions about particular documents.
5. Hiring paralegals instead of lawyers.
Lawyers with extensive experience working in renowned law firms charge approximately $290-$550 per hour for their services. Hiring associates or paralegals whose fees range from $100 to $250 will undoubtedly lower the expenses for legal representation.
At the same time, less experienced paralegals can spend twice as long to manage challenging cases. Therefore, it is crucial to make sure they have at least helped clients with similar circumstances.
Also, a relatively recent trend is to use legal help only in limited areas. For instance, a couple can hire an associate to help them with property issues but agree on custody arrangements and spousal support independently.
6. A postnuptial agreement.
If a couple didn’t think about a prenup when they got married, it doesn’t mean it’s too late to set the post-separation terms after the wedding. A postnuptial agreement should be voluntary and signed by both spouses.
Its main content is typically related to the financial security of the parties and property division in the event of a marriage breakdown. However, some states, e.g., Ohio, do not recognize postnups or assess them more strictly than prenups.
7. Dropping extra hours at work to lessen support.
Alimony and especially child support directly depends on the income of both parties from all sources. If one of the spouses takes extra shifts, the judge will use this income to calculate support.
It’s not a bad thing unless the spouse stops working overtime after divorce. The amount of support determined based on previous income would be hard to modify later.
8. Filing for divorce sooner.
The sooner the couple ends their marriage, the more personal property they can potentially save from division. It primarily concerns retirement benefits. Financial contributions made before marriage and after divorce are non-divisible in most states.
For example, community property states (Texas, California, etc.) divide all marital property 50/50. So, the longer a person delays the divorce, the more of the retirement money their spouse would get.
9. Getting expert help early.
In any marriage dissolution case, timing is everything. Valuable advice at the right time can save a lot of money in the long run. For example, a financial advisor’s consultation at the beginning can help analyze the present and future state of property division, assume tax and inflation consequences, plan a budget, etc.
Another critical point is that every specialist has their field of expertise. It’s not rational to call the attorney to discuss the emotional side of the breakup because they don’t have appropriate training. Plus, such conversations can be very costly. A consultation with a family psychologist will bring more desirable results for a lower hourly rate.
10. Focusing on the desirable outcome.
There are no absolute winners in divorce – everyone loses something. Instead of contesting every single issue, it is wiser to choose a few non-negotiable terms and focus on them. A particular point of interest might include getting joint custody or a specific property item, such as a family house.
“People rarely get everything they are asking for in a divorce, and it makes sense to continually do a cost-benefit analysis of each and every step your attorney proposed,” advises Billie Tarascio, a family law attorney and author of “Decode Your Divorce.” “By staying purposeful, you can help control your divorce costs and outcome.”
Focusing on the main goal and sacrificing nonessential matters helps save thousands of dollars while arguing over every small thing prolongs the time spent in court and increases lawyer’s fees.
11. Using reliable information.
Any divorce process is often a complex interweaving of many laws and regulations. The more understanding a person gains about it, the easier it is to adjust to particular circumstances. Although there is tons of information on the web about virtually everything, it should be taken with a grain of salt.
Laws and court rules differ by state, so a random marriage dissolution story on the message board of a thematic forum will not pertain to other cases. Asking for advice from total strangers is also not the wisest idea.
The best resources to look for reliable information are the state codes, case laws, libraries, local courts, and official self-help guides.
12. Filing in a state with better conditions.
Not all states have equal conditions for getting a desirable outcome. For example, alimony laws may be more favorable in Georgia, where adultery is considered a factor, than in Texas or Florida. And in California, child support is considerably higher than in other states.
But it’s not always that easy to just start a marriage dissolution case in another state. “If a court does not have jurisdiction over your case, it is not allowed to grant your divorce,” says Anna T. Merrill, a Massachusetts family law attorney.
“Jurisdiction is controlled by state, federal, and case law.” All states have residency requirements, meaning that a person must currently live within the state, sometimes for six months or a year continuously, to file a lawsuit there.
Saving money and reducing the cost of divorce is crucial to ensure financial stability in the future. The basic principle in such a situation is to try to end a marriage amicably and quickly. Otherwise, spouses will have to hire lawyers and go through court trials, which inevitably increases the overall expenses.