Getting married is expensive, but did you know getting divorced can be just as costly? That’s not something you like to think about as a newlywed; but unfortunately, it is something you should consider, as hundreds of thousands of people get divorced every year.
There are lots of things you can do to financially prepare for divorce. But there are times when you want out and you don’t have the option to put it off while you get your finances in order. Here are some ways to get a low-cost divorce:
- Ask about your divorce options.
- Work with your spouse.
- File a pro se divorce.
- Consider mediation.
- Find a limited-scope attorney.
1. Ask About Your Divorce Options
One of the first steps to getting divorced is filling out and filing a divorce petition with your local courthouse. The fee for filing your divorce petition will vary based on the state and county where you live and file your divorce. The cost of filing fees can vary from $50 and up in Mississippi to $435 in California.
For simple divorces, you can usually fill out the petition yourself, saving you money on attorney fees. But if you’re still strapped for cash, ask about options for waiving the filing fee. You’ll likely have to fill out an affidavit stating your economic hardship so that a judge can waive your filing fee. The technical term is “in forma pauperis.”
2. Work With Your Spouse if Possible
Another way to save on the cost of divorce? Work with your spouse as much as possible.
The less you fight, the lower your divorce legal fees and court fees will be.
Once one spouse files a divorce petition, the other will generally file an answer, even if they agree with everything stated in the petition. While this can speed up the divorce process, it may cost you more money, as it could trigger another filing fee, depending on where you live.
If your spouse is in agreement, he or she can write an agreement answer as a formality without filing it at the court. Filing a joint petition for divorce can also save you money. This way, you don’t have to pay for formal service of papers by a sheriff or even by certified mail.
Lizzie Lau, for example, managed to get divorced for free in California, the state with the highest filing fee. Lau got the filing fee waived for her petition and worked with her spouse to make sure that they avoided other costs. Because they agreed with each other, he didn’t file a response. As a result, they managed to get divorced without appearing in court. This saved them from paying for attorneys and other court costs.
3. File a Pro Se Divorce
Part of Lau’s strategy for a low-cost divorce included filling out her own legal paperwork and representing herself on legal documents. This is called a “pro se” divorce. In other words, you represent yourself without an attorney.
When I got divorced, I filed a pro se divorce, represented myself in court, and only had to pay the filing fee for my initial divorce petition. This made it possible for me to end my marriage without taking on debt or causing too much harm to my finances.
There's wealth of online resources these days that can assist people with filing pro se divorces. You can find explanations of common legal language, as well as lots of forms, tips, and tricks to help you through the legal process of divorce. That said, this strategy won’t work well for divorce cases involving disputes over child custody or property and asset division.
4. Consider Mediation
Another low-cost divorce option that will give you more control over the outcome? Avoid court entirely and instead resolve your divorce through mediation. Darlene Wanger — an attorney in Los Angeles, California — believes mediation is usually the best choice for resolving a divorce.
“Most people getting a divorce should look at trying to resolve their divorce through mediation, which is less expensive and better for reducing acrimony, particularly when there are children involved,” Wanger says. “Mediation, in my opinion, is a better option for people who have money, as well, as the best results are almost always when the parties agree to the terms of a divorce settlement rather than having the court make the decisions.”
5. Find a Limited-Scope Attorney
When spouses simply can’t come to an agreement and they need legal help, costs can add up quickly. In such cases, most attorneys will be willing to work with individuals getting divorced as a limited-scope attorney, according to Wanger.
“In cases where a client cannot afford traditional representation, I will sometimes represent a client in what is referred to as ‘limited-scope representation,’” she says. “This means that I could represent a client for a single hearing, and then I am no longer the attorney of record.”
There are other low-cost divorce options, too, she explains: “I also will sometimes act as a consulting attorney, but I never appear in court, which can save a very large expense.”
The Bottom Line on Low-Cost Divorce Options
Divorce should not be the easy way out, but in many cases, it’s the only escape from misery. So if you can do it without chalking up a huge bill, maybe the fallout will only be emotional.