Rarely any couple that exchanges marriage vows expects to face divorce someday. Yet, for 40-50% of first marriages, and 60% of second marriages, divorce is a reality. Aside from the emotional cost of divorce, especially when there are kids involved, there can be a huge financial cost: Divorces can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand, depending on a number of factors. Here are some of them:
Uncontested divorce: with or without legal assistance
If you and your spouse are in agreement as to the general terms of divorce, such as how you will separate assets, allocate debts, handle alimony, and provide child support and/or custody of any children, you can enter into an uncontested, or simple divorce. If you choose to represent yourself, you could obtain a divorce for as little as $500. That’s if you feel comfortable with a do-it-yourself divorce, purchasing either a divorce kit on the Internet, or downloading all the forms for your state. While this is definitely an option for couples that have few joint ties between themselves and are willing to take on the legal forms, most opt for legal assistance.
For uncontested divorces with legal assistance, most attorneys offer the option of a flat fee paid upfront, or a retainer fee, which can rack up significant hourly costs. In Massachusetts, for example, the average rate for divorce attorneys is $300 per hour, and represents a major part of total fees. The total cost of an uncontested divorce can run around between $1,500 and $4,000 when all fees are considered.
If you or your spouse does not have total agreement on the divorce, or has issues relating to alimony, property or your children, your divorce will be considered a contested divorce. The cost of a contested divorce can be significantly higher, is much more stressful, takes longer to resolve, and will require the services of an attorney.
A contested divorce in Massachusetts for one firm, for example, can cost each party between $6,000 and $8,000 in attorney fees. If the contested divorce has to go to trial, each party can expect to pay over $10,000 in attorney fees. The longer any issues remain unresolved, the more expensive the divorce will cost in the end.
Also, as a general rule of thumb, the more income and assets parties have, the more complex the divorce and subsequent potential costs.
How to keep costs down
There are numerous ways you can keep the costs of divorce down. The biggest way is to resolve issues with your spouse without the assistance of a lawyer, and file for an uncontested divorce. This would mean agreeing on custody, alimony, property, and how to split assets and liabilities.
Another way to cut costs is to use a mediator to help you sort out issues before they go to a lawyer. A mediator will also help in preventing issues from going eventually to court.
A third way to cut costs is to keep meticulous records of documents related to the divorce. Whether it’s official correspondence, court orders, or personal notes, the more information you have on hand, the less preparation a lawyer will have to do.
You can control the cost of divorce
The bottom line is that divorce is costly, but you have some control. If you are headed in that direction, know that the more you and your spouse agree with the terms of the divorce, the less money it will cost you. Also, the more you become self-informed of procedures, filing documents, and the entire divorce process, the less you will have to spend money on professionals to do the heavy lifting for you.
You may not be able to control the final outcome – divorce – but you can control the costs if your spouse is willing and you are willing to take more control over the divorce, rather than delegate and argue over details.
Have you had experience with divorce costs and have some advice to share with our readers? We invite you to comment below.
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