An estimated one million divorces occur in the U.S. each year (InsuranceQuotes.com), costing the average divorce client an average $15,000-$30,000 in legal costs (Larry Lefkowitz, divorce lawyer)! While the price of ending a marriage can be cut substantially by using mediation, or if the process is concluded through collaboration or uncontested, the prospect of obtaining a divorce is all but impossible for people with limited means!
Wealthy people aren’t the only ones who need to divorce, yet it’s so expensive that it seems out of reach to many without a lot of money!
What should you do if caught in a bad situation that you’re desperate to be free from, but you can’t afford to divorce? Escaping from a bad marriage is a significant challenge when faced with moving, establishing a new home, and the monumental legal costs needed to achieve freedom!
Two divorce experts, Theresa Viera, a family law attorney with Sodoma Law, and Leah Villalobos, a financial coach, divorce mediator, and divorce financial specialist from Great Lakes Divorce Financial Solutions shared their wisdom about how to address this difficult situation.
Theresa advised that “the key to getting a divorce if money is tight is to make sure you spend any funds you do have extremely efficiently. The very first thing you should do is save up the money for a consultation with a family law attorney- it is okay to have a consultation with a lawyer even if you don’t have the funds to retain them!” Many lawyers require $5,000 or more for a retainer (Lefkowitz).
“When you need more help” she continued “it is okay to schedule a follow-up consultation. Take the time to research and prepare ahead of your consultation, and make sure you bring clearly defined questions and goals to make the most of your consultation.”
Theresa explained that divorce and family law matters can be very complex, even for the most knowledgeable attorney, so it is important to get good advice.
Both Viera and Villalobos recommend using community resources to make divorce more attainable for those on a tight budget.
Leah suggested contacting the local bar association to see if there are any free clinics or attorneys who might take pro bono cases. Leah concurred with Theresa about the necessity of securing legal advice, even if filling out your own paperwork, especially if there are children involved.
Theresa suggests using free or low-cost resources from local libraries and self-help centers and shared that some public law school libraries are free and open to the public.
Time is money in the legal arena. Many lawyers charge $100-$450 per hour (Lefkowitz); so, according to Theresa, you need to “become organized, be organized, and keep all financial documents, correspondence, and other pertinent information in one place to be helpful to you and your attorney, whether you settle a divorce in court or outside of it.”
The more organizing, leg work, discussion, and decisions you can make without a lawyer’s assistance, the more you will save in both time and money. The side benefit to discussing everything from how to divide property, to how to handle visitation, is that the final plan, which will become court orders, will be your plan instead of what is imposed by the courts! If there’s any way to get your ex to cooperate and make as many decisions as possible, the better off you will be!
No matter what your financial situation, a divorce is an unwanted expenditure of funds. This situation becomes even more complicated for stay-at-home parents and those who have been limited in their ability to work during the marriage. Though still an expensive endeavor, there are steps one can take to reduce the financial burden and still find a way to escape a failed marriage!