Controlling the High Cost of Divorce

Like many women, you're probably worried about the cost of divorce, and this is certainly justified.

By WomansDivorce | Answer by Timothy McNamara, CDFA

According to recent statistics (1), the average cost of a divorce in the United States ranges from $4,100 to $23,000, with some high asset cases exceeding $50,000 or more. This financial burden can be overwhelming, leaving many women feeling trapped and unsure of how to move forward. However, there are ways to minimize the cost of divorce and regain control over your finances during this challenging time.

In this answer to our reader's question, our financial expert explores some practical strategies for reducing the cost of divorce, from using mediation to negotiate the details of your divorce to doing all the paperwork yourself.

How to Reduce the Cost of Divorce

Tami's Question: What is the cheapest way to get a divorce?

Timothy's Answer: Divorce is not cheap. When people are getting divorced, they generally fight about two things – the kids and money. And this fighting drives up the cost of divorce. I have recently seen statistics that show the average cost of divorce in the U.S. is now $20-$40,000. It does not make sense for someone with few or no financial assets to obtain such a costly divorce. 

Traditionally, a couple seeking a divorce will hire an attorney to represent them. The cost of obtaining counsel can be significant and will always require an up-front retainer fee for representation. Fortunately, there are many ways to dissolve a marriage that can be less costly.

Another option to consider is a “Do-it-with-help” online legal platform like Rocket Lawyer. Rocket Lawyer can save you thousands of dollars in legal fees. They offer affordable monthly membership packages that include interview style documents and time with vetted attorneys to ensure your documents are enforceable and done right.

More recently, alternative dispute models such as mediation and collaborative divorce have been gaining in popularity.

Mediation is generally the least expensive option, but this method of reaching a divorce settlement requires the couple's ability (and cooperation) to work through their issues. The focus of mediation is to arrive at an agreement that is fair to both parties, at which time the resulting settlement can be drafted. An attorney is often used to review the paperwork. While it may be more cost effective, it would not be an appropriate choice if one spouse was dishonest.

Collaboration is a team of professionals who help couples dissolve their marriage out of court. It too can often be less expensive than the traditional method. 

While I always recommend you seek counsel, if costs are a concern you can look to mediation which tends to be less expensive. Many of the divorce mediators I know take less than eight hours to start and finish most divorces. Depending on their hourly fees, this can often be a less expensive method of resolving your divorce.

Some couples chose to do their own divorce as a way of uncoupling. This method is referred to in the legal community as pro se. 

Of course doing your own divorce is perhaps the least costly, but the long term costs associated with not getting good advice can cost you for the rest of your lives. Unless you went to law school to practice family law, I would not recommend you do this. There is a reason attorney’s go to law school for three additional years after earning their bachelor's degree. To think that you can learn what they have over that time and apply your knowledge to perform your own divorce reflects the old maxim "One who represents himself has a fool for a client."

My advice would be to seek a mediator and share with them your financial concerns. The mediation firm I am a volunteer at is a non-profit and often has resources for those who cannot otherwise afford to pay higher fees. You may have a firm in your area which might do the same.

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