Divorce can rattle even the seemingly most unflappable couples. If you have a divorce pending, you’re definitely not alone. Roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce. It’s not fun. It’s hard. It’s expensive. And no matter why you’re getting divorced, money is going to come into play, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose everything.
An uncontested pro se divorce costs around $2,000. However, bitter arguments and battles over possessions as well as child custody raise the cost of getting a divorce into the tens of thousands of dollars. Divorce lawyers, court costs, splitting assets, losing a portion of retirement funds, and debt will also raise the price tag. And if you’re paying alimony or child support, the costs will stick around for years to come.
Preparing For Divorce
It might seem easier – and even less expensive – to go from living together to being apart. But when you separate, expenses double, literally. To avoid surprises, it’s really important to evaluate your expenses and to have your soon-to-be ex do the same. The more amicable the divorce, the easier (and less costly) it will be. Working together will get it all over with faster and no matter the reasons for the divorce, you probably want that more than anything.
There are other things you can do to prepare, too. As soon as you and your spouse decide to get a divorce, you should:
- Put together a list of your joint debts and assets, your expenses and tax returns
- Get all three copies of your credit reports
- Cancel joint credit cards – you don’t want to be held responsible for your spouse’s spending
- Research your rights
- Use joint funds to pay for joint expenses, such as home and auto repairs
- Open a PO box for confidential mail
- Talk to a divorce attorney about what to expect
- Don’t turn down alimony or child support until you consult with a lawyer – once you waive the right it can be hard (or impossible) to get back
- Start the things you want to do after the divorce is finalized, like going back to school
- Get copies of records documenting personal property, like familial inheritance
- Open a bank account and a savings account in your name – you may have to divide the funds, but you can use them in the meantime
It’s not too late to begin these even if you’ve already started on the divorce process, but earlier rather than later is always better.
Ways to Cut the Costs During Your Divorce
One of the most expensive parts of getting a divorce is the actual litigation. Costs can reach as high as $80,000. That’ll eat into your assets and can cause you to be in debt long after the divorce is over. So how can you save money?
A less expensive option that can still be beneficial to you is mediation. Working with a certified family mediator ensures that you’ll get someone who has a background in family law and has some experience. The mediator is also likely to recommend that both of you consult an attorney so you know what to expect and know your rights and responsibilities. Advantages of mediation include:
- Working out the terms of your divorce with help
- Teaching you how to work together to work out certain aspects of the divorce
- Saving money – typically costs between $600 and $3,000
- Allowing you to keep control
- Opening the door for less hostile than litigation, which can make the process go more smoothly
- Paving the way for much faster than litigation
That said, mediation doesn’t work for everyone. Every couple is different and sometimes the underlying hostility is too deep to get through. Other issues, like alcohol and drugs, can also make mediation a route that just won’t work. That means you need an attorney.
Saving money on an attorney is a significant way to cut costs. One of the best ways to do that is to interview several attorneys. Ask about initial costs as well as fees that you’ll have to pay that aren’t included in the upfront charges. Other ways to avoid extra charges from your attorney include:
- Not calling up your attorney to whine about your ex – they usually bill hourly
- Being upfront about your assets so they’re not discovering things later that cost more time – and money
- Bringing in paperwork pertaining to your assets, investments and bills
- Organizing paperwork so it’s easy to go through and makes sense
- Not wasting time or money arguing about child support – most states have legal guidelines already in place
- Asking banks, schools and doctors to send information to you instead of having the attorney send a subpoena
- Asking the attorney for advice, but representing yourself in the courtroom
Making Ends Meet After Divorce
The cost of divorce doesn’t end once the papers are signed and you’re no longer in a relationship. Individuals who stayed home with the kids as homemakers may need to get a job. Child support payments won’t be enough to pay your bills and take care of the kids effectively. Touching other assets to do so will only hurt you even more in the long run.
On the other hand, if you’re paying child support, it’ll take a chunk out of your income, as will alimony. Several people have found that after a divorce, they went from being financially stable to having very little money in their accounts. You can guard against that by preparing ahead of time.
Consider the things that are most important. Make a list of the bills, and pay those first. You might not be able to take the kids out for fun things, but if you’re open and honest with them, they’ll probably understand. Be ready to adjust your spending patterns, and if you find that something is costing you too much money – like the house – sell it. Don’t try to live the way you did before.
Divorce is hard, but by preparing carefully before and during the divorce and setting yourself up for post-divorce changes, you can save yourself a lot of financial heartache.