Just like weddings, divorces can be costly. Depending on a number of factors, including attorney fees, moving costs and more, you can easily spend $15,000, but you may be able to spend a couple thousand or less.
If you’re looking to minimize costs, it’s important that you and your spouse try to get along — and that before you hire a divorce lawyer or a mediator, you get estimates on what the costs will likely be.
“Generally, couples make their divorce more costly by fighting. If couples can agree on issues, then the cost of a divorce is minimal,” says Gabriel Cheong, an attorney and the owner of Infinity Law Group in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Here are some ways you could be making divorce more expensive, along with how to cut costs.
You Hire Professionals Before Trying to Work Things Out
Before you hire an attorney or mediator, try to discuss how you want your post-marriage life to look, and see if you and your soon-to-be-ex partner are in agreement. If you two genuinely like each other — you just don’t love each other in the way that two partners should — you might be able to work everything out, mostly on your own. You’ll still want to each have an attorney look over your divorce paperwork, but this path can reduce your overall costs significantly.
Cheong suggests discussing these topics:
— Property. Talk about how you want to split bank accounts, retirement assets and your home.
— Health insurance. Think through your health insurance options. “Is everyone getting their own health insurance or is one spouse staying on another spouse’s plan? If there are children, who’s covering the children and how to divide up the cost?”
— Alimony and child support. This is where things can fall apart, fast. “If there are children, when will the children be with mom, and when will the children be with dad? The term ‘custody’ is very loaded and often elicits defensive responses,” Cheong says. “Try to talk about it in terms of a schedule, so everyone knows who’s with who and when.”
— Taxes. Discuss tax filing status and other tax issues. “Will everyone be filing taxes jointly this year?” Cheong asks. “Who will take the tax deduction for children?”
Cheong adds: “Those are the main issues, although most couples have issues with dividing assets and parenting times,” he says. “The more they disagree and the harder they fight, the more expensive the process gets.”
You could also consider hiring a mediator to help you and your spouse work out a divorce agreement. You can still expect to spend a few hundred dollars, and maybe more, for a session. As noted, there is no such thing as a cheap divorce. But every mediator will insist that they are less costly than an attorney.
You Have Your Attorney on Speed Dial
According to Divorcenet.com, published by the legal website Nolo.com, a typical divorce with attorneys involved costs $7,000. A typical do-it-yourself divorce without attorneys costs $300.
That reality is that you’re probably going to need an attorney for a divorce, and you probably will spend more than $300 on your divorce. But those numbers should inspire you to not put your attorney on speed dial.
Even some divorce attorneys will tell you not to overdo it.
“I am always happy to talk to my clients about their case, but like most attorneys, I charge by the hour. The more frequently you talk to your attorney, the more expensive your bill will get,” says Brent Morgan, an attorney in Midland, Texas, who owns the Morgan Law Office with his wife, Piper, who is also a lawyer. About 40% of his caseload is family law and divorces, he says.
“Clients get the impression I am there to listen to every single thing their spouse has ever done wrong in a marriage. They will find a sympathetic ear but a hefty bill,” Morgan says.
In fact, you may want to speak with the attorney’s staff, not the attorney. “While any attorney is happy to answer questions for their clients, and some questions require the legal expertise only an attorney can provide, too often people going through a divorce will ask their attorneys basic questions a trained paralegal or assistant can answer,” Morgan says. “The attorney’s staff can answer a lot of your questions — or listen to you complain about your spouse — at either a much lower rate or for free.”
You Go Straight to Court
While things are finally getting back to normal, they are not completely normal.
Courts around the country are still backlogged from the pandemic, “sometimes by a year or more,” Cheong says. “It’s now more important than ever to try to work with your spouse to resolve issues outside of court because courts are even slower than they were before.”
But even if courts weren’t backlogged, you want to avoid the courtroom unless you enjoy spending money.
Consider alternatives first. “Many courts encourage alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation, collaborative law, or simply having good attorneys that are resolution-focused rather than litigation-focused,” Cheong says.
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You Drag Your Feet on Paperwork
This can cost you, says Erik Danielson, an attorney and founder of Danielson Law Firm headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas, who is also licensed in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. “The biggest way we see clients making their divorce more expensive than it should be is simply by not listening to their attorney. In this case, the attorney is the expert,” Danielson says.
So if your lawyer requests documents, Danielson suggests getting the papers to your attorney quickly and in an organized manner. “We have rules to follow and the more cooperative you are, the less time — and money — we will spend on unnecessary tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but don’t bombard us with questions about why you have to follow the rules,” Danielson advises.
Factors That Determine a Divorce’s Overall Cost
There are more factors than you might think, according to Rubenstein. She says some of the costs you may pay beyond an attorney include:
Other divorce-related professionals. You may need to pay accountants and therapists. “For therapy, the cost may be higher considering children’s need for therapy as well,” Rubenstein says.
Moving costs. Somebody’s probably moving out of the home. You or your soon-to-be ex will probably need to buy some basic furniture and home goods.
Refinancing home and auto loans. Assets and debts held jointly often must be transferred to the spouse’s individual names, Rubenstein stays, and there are expenses associated with refinancing and transferring titles.
Insurance. You’ll going to be paying for car insurance and health insurance on your own. Plan for that as early as possible.
Cellphone. You or your ex will probably switch from the family plan to an individual plan.
Court fees. Set aside at least several hundred dollars for court fees. “The initial filing fee in California is $435, and there are additional filing fees for motions, administrative fees, process serving fees and messenger service fees,” Rubenstein says. “In a case that is heavily litigated, these costs can add up very quickly.”
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Can a Divorce Be Cheap?
It isn’t likely, but your divorce might only cost several hundred dollars if the stars align. For instance, you may have a cheap divorce if:
— You and your spouse don’t have children. Your divorce still may be incredibly painful, but you’ll have much less to argue about. You may bicker over who gets the pets, but there won’t be a debate about child support.
— You don’t have children, and you have similar salaries. When you split up, no one feels like they went from having a lot of money to not having much. Suddenly, alimony may not be an issue for either of you.
— All of the above, and you use attorneys minimally. And if you genuinely like each other, you probably won’t fight over much. When you argue, especially if you both feel strongly about certain things, you’ll likely spend more money.
Ways to Reduce the Cost of Divorce
To review, remember the following to reduce the cost of a divorce:
Use lawyers as little as possible. But do use them for the important stuff.
Be organized. Don’t miss dates. Provide paperwork in a timely manner.
Work with your spouse as much as possible. Especially if you have kids, you are going to be in each other’s lives for a long time. The nicer you are to each other, the more likely it is that you’ll both save money.
Listen to your attorney. This is very important, Rubenstein says. Don’t be your worst enemy and sabotage your divorce. “When your attorney is telling you directly to do something or not, remember that you are paying good money for this advice for good reason,” Rubenstein says.
Avoid court if you can. If you really want to save money, don’t go to trial. Divorce is enough of a trial as it is.
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Update 06/20/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.