The Cost of Divorce: Expert Tips for Planning and Paying for Your Separation

The Cost of Divorce: Expert Tips for Planning and Paying for Your Separation

By: Lisa Zeiderman

Divorce doesn’t only bring emotional distress. It also brings financial implications that could drastically affect an individual’s life. Among those are how much their divorce will cost them and, related to that, how they will pay for it.

This concern is especially applicable if they are the non-monied spouse. By non-monied spouse, I mean the spouse who either wasn’t the primary wage earner during the marriage or, for whatever reason, doesn’t have access to the funds they need to finance their divorce, at least right now.

I won’t sugarcoat it; the divorce process can be costly. Fortunately, there are numerous avenues to help mitigate these costs — that is, if you are proactive and resourceful. If you think you can be (and I know you can), stick with me as I point you to different strategies for planning and paying for your separation and divorce.

Speak to the court clerk.

The county clerk is often the first point of contact when initiating the divorce process. They can provide you with the necessary paperwork to kickstart the legal proceedings.

Depending on the specific situation, such as whether children are involved or domestic violence issues, your case may be redirected to courts that deal with these matters. Filing an order for protection can be vital if there’s a threat of violence.

File for fee waivers.

Court filing fees can be a significant part of divorce costs. However, low-income individuals might qualify for a fee waiver, which can lessen this financial burden.

The process involves an application and proof of income. If granted, it can make a substantial difference in the overall cost of the divorce process.

Contact pro bono organizations.

Pro bono organizations offer free legal services to individuals who cannot afford them. The Legal Aid Society, for example, provides legal help to low-income individuals, including those going through a divorce.

Individuals must complete a financial disclosure form demonstrating their financial need to qualify for this assistance. In addition, these organizations can provide significant relief regarding legal representation costs if deemed eligible.

Call your local bar associations.

Bar associations often have resources and programs to assist individuals with legal matters, including divorce. For example, the Women’s Bar Association focuses explicitly on supporting women navigating the legal system.

These organizations can provide valuable advice and resources to help manage the financial aspects of divorce, such as offering referrals to affordable legal services or providing access to informative workshops and seminars.

Reach out to law schools in your area.

Law schools frequently have legal clinics or student-run groups that provide low-cost or free legal services. These groups are supervised by experienced attorneys or professors, ensuring that the quality of the service remains high.

Volunteers can assist with preparing uncontested divorce documents, pro se motions, and other legal paperwork, which can be a cost-effective alternative to hiring a professional attorney. However, remember that these services may be limited compared to working with an experienced divorce attorney.

Contact a divorce lawyer.

When one spouse controls most of the assets, the non-monied spouse may face difficulties accessing funds for legal representation. In such cases, consulting with a divorce lawyer is a good idea.

A divorce attorney can negotiate with the monied spouse or, if necessary, file a request for judicial intervention to secure access to marital funds. This step allows both parties to have an equal opportunity for legal representation during the divorce process.

Ask family and friends for help.

Turning to family and friends for financial assistance can be an option when facing divorce costs. Borrowing money from a trusted loved one can help cover legal fees, allowing you to initiate the divorce process.

In some jurisdictions, there’s an expectation that the monied spouse will contribute to the non-monied spouse’s legal fees, which can help alleviate the financial burden. However, nothing is guaranteed, so it’s best not to depend on that outcome until it happens.

Request an advance.

Requesting an advance from the monied spouse for legal, expert, and support fees can help non-monied spouses cover the costs of the divorce process. With an advance, the non-monied spouse agrees to repay the advanced funds from future income or assets awarded to them during the divorce proceedings.

The court will later determine what percentage of the advance must be repaid, also known as reallocation. The court will base its analysis on factors such as the lifestyle, income, and assets of both spouses in relation to one another.

Consider mediation only if your matter is not complex.

Alternative dispute resolution methods can sometimes be more cost-effective than traditional litigation. Mediation, for example, involves working with a neutral mediator to negotiate the terms of your divorce.

This methodology can work if your matter is simple and you and your spouse can cooperate. However, it is ill-advised if you and your spouse have issues with the balance of power in your relationship or control or if there is domestic violence.

Mediation can save time and money in the right situation, reducing the emotional strain on all parties involved. However, both parties must be open to negotiation and compromise for it to succeed.

Use online resources.

The internet is a valuable resource for understanding the complexities of divorce. Websites like the American Bar Association provide free general guidelines, while other online platforms may offer detailed instructions and forms for a fee. In addition, online divorce services can guide you through filing for divorce independently, which can reduce legal costs further.

Despite these resources, consulting with a legal professional is critical to becoming aware of your rights and responsibilities and not missing elements that could impact the outcome of your case. Although online resources can be a money saver in the short term, without the oversight and guidance from an experienced divorce attorney, they could cost you in more ways than money later.

Consider liquidating assets.

Liquidating assets can provide the necessary funds to cover divorce expenses. However, it’s important to consider the potential tax implications and penalties for early withdrawal.

For example, selling off assets can lead to capital gains tax, and withdrawing from retirement accounts could cause you to incur penalties. A skilled financial advisor, preferably someone experienced in divorce cases, can help you understand these potential costs and make the most financially sound decisions.

Manage your expectations.

The cost of a divorce can escalate quickly if the process becomes contentious and drawn out. Therefore, managing your expectations and being willing to compromise is yet another way to minimize divorce expenses.

Staying open to negotiation and maintaining a reasonable approach can help expedite the process and, as a result, keep the price of your divorce down. However, this doesn’t mean you should easily relinquish your rights or compromise on pursuing what you need. Always consult your divorce attorney to determine whether your decisions are in your best interest.

Final thoughts …

Divorce is a complicated and sometimes convoluted process, one that can be emotionally and financially draining. Therefore, exploring all available resources and strategies to manage the associated expenses effectively before getting started is wise.

From pro bono organizations and law schools to the use of the internet, options are available to make the divorce process more affordable. With careful planning and the right support, you can navigate this challenging time without unnecessary monetary stress, all the while realizing that the overarching goal of divorce is to transition to a post-divorce life that is financially sound and emotionally fulfilling.


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