Divorce is a difficult time in anyone’s life and it can also be a very expensive time, especially if you don’t understand the process and can’t afford an attorney to represent you. “Divorce is a complex legal process. It’s best to know what the process entails and what to expect as it unfolds. The more informed you are, the fewer surprises there will be,” Steven Fernandez, a certified family law specialist and managing partner of Fernandez & Karney, APLC tells SheKnows.
And of course, those surprises Fernandez mentioned can be what end up costing you more money. But, there are ways to save money and there are (believe it or not!) alternatives to hiring a lawyer to represent you in all aspects of a divorce. Here are some tips for getting a divorce on a serious budget.
Agree to agree
OK, this may not be an option for every couple, but before you rule it out, let’s discuss. Divorces tend to be expensive because spouses fight over every aspect of the split. Fernandez says a divorce will be much less expensive when spouses set aside their differences and agree to compromise. “A judge will refuse to sign off on a divorce until all issues — including property division, alimony, and child custody — are resolved. A contested divorce, where spouses disagree, will take longer to resolve and demand more resources,” Fernandez explains.
“Spouses who can’t agree about how their divorce should unfold will have to look to others for help. This help isn’t always cheap. Expert witnesses, such as therapists and forensic accountants, can be expensive. Using arbitration or mediation is another added expense.” He adds that negotiating the terms of the split privately before the divorce papers are filed is the number one way to cut down on costs. If you and your spouse can’t agree on anything else, maybe you can both agree you both want to spend as little as possible to split? It’s at least a good place to start.
Hire a lawyer to consult and guide you through the case without having that lawyer represent you in court
Divorce attorney, Christopher S. Hildebrand, tells SheKnows that some attorneys are more than happy to ghostwrite all of your divorce documents and may even file those documents with the court on your behalf. “They can also provide you advice on an ‘as needed’ basis and provide you with options to settle your case,” Hildebrand says.
“In the event your case goes to trial, you may have the option of hiring that attorney to represent you at the final divorce trial. This approach can save thousands of dollars on attorney fees that would have been charged if the attorney represented you in all parts of your divorce.”
Hire a qualified paralegal to draft all of your court documents
“Many states allow paralegals to draft documents for people representing themselves in a divorce. It is important to know the laws that apply to paralegals drafting court documents in your state to ensure the paralegal you hire is authorized to help with your divorce. However, paralegals are prohibited from giving you legal advice in all states,” says Hildebrand.
Finance your divorce
Although this may not be a wise approach for everyone, Hildebrand says divorce finance companies provide financing for divorce and other legal matters. “This approach, however, presents the danger of accumulating a significant amount of debt at a time when finances are already stretched to their limits. Incurring more debt through financing your divorce, therefore, should only be considered if you are assured of receiving a sufficient amount of assets in the divorce to repay that loan and still have enough money to move on with your life after the divorce.”
Ask for a reduced fee
Do not be shy to ask a divorce attorney if he or she will work for free or at a discounted hourly rate. “Although most attorneys expect to be paid their normal hourly rate, there are times when a case appears so compelling to a lawyer that he or she will agree to take the case pro bono or at a significantly reduced hourly rate,” Hildebrand tells SheKnows.
Consider mediation instead of litigation
“Mediation is preferable for many couples because it provides a way for parties to work out the financial and logistical aspects of their divorce without the stress and financial hardship of an adversarial approach,” attorney and mediators, Christina Daigneault, Esq. and Joan Pangilinan-Taylor, co-founders of Orchard Mediation, Inc. tell SheKnows. “It keeps the decision making in their hands, instead of a judge. In fact, mediation is about 70% cheaper than litigation, on average. Further, some mediators offer a pay-as-you-go process to couples. With this opportunity, parties can pace out their process in a way that works for their budget and schedule.” Pay-as-you-go sounds doable.
Research the free tools and services in your town
“Many states offer services in circumstances where the parties have little to no resources to pay for lawyers, including pro-bono lawyers at your local bar association. Additionally, there are services available at the courthouse to assist in preparing the requisite divorce papers at little to know costs,” Corey Morgenstern, an associate at GreenspoonMarder tells SheKnows. Go to your local courthouse or municipal building and find out what is available to you.
There’s no quick and easy way to get through a divorce but hopefully these tips have at least made the financial aspect more manageable. If you’d like to read up on some more divorce advice, check out our new series, Breaking Good — A Modern Guide to Divorce.