Divorce is a difficult thing to go through, not just for your heart, but also for your wallet. The cost of attorneys, mediators, CPAs, counselors, and court fees can put a huge strain on finances, which will only add to the suffering of the situation. While divorce rates have been steadily falling, down from the nearly 50% occurring at the end of the last decade, there are still a substantial amount of consumers going through the detangling process every year.
Many couples are deciding to marry later in life, which is likely why divorce rates have been steadily falling. While this is great for keeping couples together, it may make getting divorced more complicated. With age comes more financial success and assets, which makes dividing things up down the road inherently more complex.
While there are several options available for couples seeking to uncouple, the more assets they have, the more narrow the options become. A couple married only a short time with few assets and no children might be able to get a cheap divorce, especially if the desire to divorce is mutual. In fact, there are internet sites that can prepare the paperwork for you for just a few hundred dollars. These sites don’t offer any legal counseling or advice, and couples must work out the agreement on their own. This can be hard for many couples to do, even if their divorce is a simple one. Communication is crucial, and often that’s the first thing that breaks down in a marriage. Because of this, unfortunately, the number of couples that can actually get an ultra cheap divorce is very small. For everyone else, it’s an expensive process.
This is especially true for couples in the middle class; the cost of litigating a divorce has gone up considerably while the details of divorce have gotten much more complex. Those in the middle class usually have a good amount of assets and property and usually have children. Unlike the rich, the middle class usually doesn’t have the resources to fund a long, messy divorce; so, unless there’s a good amount of consensus among the parties, a divorce can have devastating financial effects.
Even with all the financial pitfalls of divorce, there are some strategies couples can use help make the process go quicker and cost less. While there are many factors that influence the length of time it takes to get a divorce and the money you’ll spend, here are a few things to try.
Work Out as Much as You Can Before Hiring a Lawyer
If possible, try to talk through some of the issues before getting lawyers involved. Often times, things escalate when each party hires an attorney. If you can communicate at all and are able to iron out even a rough agreement beforehand, you’ll be well ahead of the game and be able to save a considerable sum of money. While emotions are a huge part of a divorce, if couples can keep a business mindset, remain fair, and not let anger and resentment get in the way, things will go quicker and be less painful.
Once you do each hire an attorney, let them know what you’ve worked out between you and if you both feel it’s fair. Don’t let them take you back to square one by talking you out of your agreements. Remember, your attorney will be paid by the hour, so the longer things drag on, the higher his or her fees will be. Minor bickering and renegotiation will likely cost you more than it’s worth. Additionally, if you renege on agreements already made, you could potentially destroy any goodwill you’ve created with your soon-to-be ex. Make no mistake about it: the less drama between the two parties, the less of your money the attorneys will get in the end.
Try to Avoid Ending Up in Court
Ending up before a judge should be a last resort in working out an agreeable divorce settlement. Trying to work together toward a swift and fair resolution through mediation or other collaborative methods is always the best way to go. When a couple goes through a mediation process, they maintain control over the outcome. This isn’t necessarily the case if you throw yourself at the mercy of a judge. Additionally, your attorneys will burn many hours, and consequently, your money, preparing a court case and making appearances.
It’s a good idea, though, to have a lawyer review any agreement you do reach out of court, through a mediator or on your own. This is because some aspects of a divorce agreement can become final once an agreement is signed. An attorney can make sure that any agreement you reach is in accordance with the law.
Another option is to go through a process called arbitration. This process will take less time and cost less money than going to court. The two parties can hire a mutually agreed upon arbitrator who’ll go through the case and make decisions much in the same way a judge would. Generally, both parties agree in advance that they’ll abide by the decisions of the arbitrator.
If you’re working toward a collaborative divorce, it’s possible to share resources such as counselors and accountants. However, you can’t have one attorney represent both of you, as this is seen as a conflict of interest. Only certain states will allow a couple to engage in a collaborative divorce, and if they do, they usually require that the couple sign an agreement to keep the case out of the court system.
If you do decide to take your case to a judge, be prepared for a wait to get on the judge’s calendar, and to pay for any time you and your attorney have to sit around waiting for the case to be heard. Minimize the time your attorney has to spend preparing for the court appearance by giving well-written summaries of your case and statements from anyone you think may need to appear on your behalf. Anything you can do to streamline things will save time and money.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll get a better deal by going to court. You may think that you have a rock solid case and the judge will rule in your favor, but that’s not always the way things turn out. Judges will consider all kinds of aspects that you can’t anticipate, and many times rule in ways you never intended. This is why the vast majority of cases end up settling before ever going to court.
Be Fair When It Comes to the Division Of Assets
Unfortunately, this is an area where things often get contentious as you try to reach a divorce settlement. Sometimes, a conflict will arise simply out of spite and over items that have very little value. It’s common for couples to spend more than an item is worth in attorney fees over a matter of principle.
Too often, attorneys won’t intervene when couples become unreasonable and squabble over assets that should be insignificant in the larger picture. This can contribute to unnecessary legal costs. Many times, these conflicts aren’t really about the item but more about the underlying feelings of anger, resentment, and disappointment between the two parties. This is where a counselor or mediator can be very helpful.
When it comes to larger assets such as homes, retirement accounts, and other property, it’s wise to hire an accountant to help place value on these assets to make a fair division possible. Couples can save money by sharing this resource as long as there’s a high confidence the person hired to do the work is fair and impartial.
Don’t make the mistake of treating lawyers like therapists, as this will only cost you money. They’re only there to assist you legally. Spending hours expressing your anger and disappointment won’t get you any closer to resolving those feelings, but it’ll get you closer to bankruptcy.
Put the Kids First
One of the most devastating effects of divorce is the anguish it inflicts upon children and, unfortunately, it’s often the thing divorcing couples fight over the most. Sadly, it’s a place where couples can inflict the most emotional damage on each other. What’s often lost in the process is the emotional toll it takes on the children.
Couples can also spend the vast majority of their legal dollars in custody disputes and visitation haggling only in the end to come out with a standard agreement that could have been resolved quickly in the first place. Meanwhile, everyone, including the children, comes out with less money and more emotional damage. Putting your kids first in a divorce settlement not only saves you money but it’s also healthier for everyone involved.
Make Wise Decisions When It Comes to Hiring Resources
When someone is involved in a contested divorce, the first instinct is to hire the most aggressive lawyer money can buy. Usually, that comes as a recommendation from a friend of a friend. You should interview several lawyers to find one that’s in close alignment with your overall goals and lets you lead the discussion on desired outcome. While you’ll need to pay for the time it takes to conduct the interview, it’ll be money well spent, as finding the right match for your situation will save you thousands of dollars in the end.
Don’t let an attorney pump up your expectations of a settlement entirely in your favor. A reasonably thinking person knows that a settlement will need to be a fair agreement in order for the opposing party to agree to it. When it comes to hiring other resources, such as accountants, make sure you hire the right person with experience in forensic accounting. You’ll pay less in hourly fees by hiring accountants to evaluate finances than leaving that work to attorneys.
Whatever you do, don’t try to represent yourself. This applies not only to divorce but also in any legal situation you find yourself in. When you’re in a highly emotional state, it’s too difficult to think clearly, make good decisions, and keep a frame of mind that promotes a fair resolution.
When you do find the right people to hire, do yourself a favor and give them the information they need in an organized and complete fashion. If you just hand over a box of stuff, be prepared to pay big hourly fees for them to go through and organize everything in a way that’s useful.
When communicating, make sure to do it in a way that takes the least amount of time. Keep your phone calls to a minimum and make sure when you do call that you have a good reason to do so. Many attorneys bill in 15-minute intervals, so a five-minute call could cost far more than you anticipate. The same goes for emails. Make sure to address things of real concern and work off a list of important matters you need to discuss. Don’t engage in costly small talk.
Going through a divorce is never a pleasant experience. Most divorces are long and difficult. The last thing you want to happen, on top of the emotional toll, is to come out of it financially damaged as well. Be smart with your choices and decisions and you could minimize the trauma to everyone and hopefully disentangle for less money out of your pocket. Then, make sure to make time for rebuilding your finances and getting your financial life back on track.