If you’re getting divorced, you’ve been through enough. The last thing you need now is a $13,000 bill.
The average divorce in the United States costs a whopping $12,900, and many cost tens of thousands more than that.
But divorce doesn’t have to be financially ruinous. A low-cost divorce is possible. We spoke with divorce attorneys who shared their advice on keeping the price tag down.
11 Low-Cost Divorce Tips from Attorneys
Use a Mediator Instead of an Attorney
Most couples immediately hire attorneys when they’re getting a divorce, but even contentious divorces don’t necessarily need attorneys, says Dori Shwirtz, an attorney who practices marital and divorce mediation at Divorce Harmony, a virtual divorce service.
Mediation is a process in which the parties are assisted by a neutral third party who helps the couple come to an agreement outside of court. “Oftentimes, the agreement they come to would be the same conclusion that would be reached after years of an attorney-centered battle in court anyway,” Shwirtz says.
Look for Free and Reduced-Fee Programs
If you can’t afford representation, search for free and reduced-fee programs in your community, says Damian Turco, a divorce lawyer with Turco Legal in Massachusetts.
“There are thousands of non-profit legal aid organizations, and many lawyers take pro-bono or reduced-fee programs based on income and assets,” Turco says. Use the Find a Lawyer feature of JusticeApp, a free mobile app that aggregates resources and programs, and provides other free tools to help you manage your legal case.
As part of the divorce process, you will be required to collect financial information. Before the mediation begins, collect copies of the documents you will need, says Vicki Volper, a family law attorney in Westport, Conn.
That includes tax returns for the last three years; your most recent pay stubs; most recent mortgage statements; brokerage and bank statements for each account; pension and retirement account statements; credit card statements if you don’t pay off cards in full each month; and credit reports for each spouse.
Do Your Homework
Your mediator will have an agenda for each meeting and will likely have work for you to do outside of sessions.
“For example, you might be asked to get your home appraised or determined the value of your car,” Volper says. “Communicate with your spouse. Decide who will be responsible for obtaining what information in between mediation sessions.”
Don’t Treat Your Attorney Like a Therapist
If you find that the emotional pain of divorcing interferes with your ability to negotiate and compromise, an independent mental health professional may be helpful.
“Don’t rack up legal bills talking to your attorney about your emotions,” Volper says.
Compile Your Questions
If you have 10 questions for your attorney, call a single time to ask all the questions rather than calling 10 times, says Eric Klein, a family law attorney. Same goes for emails. That’s because most divorce attorneys will bill for a minimum of 15 minutes, whether or not you use the entire time.
“If the client follows this simple strategy, they could save thousands of dollars by the end of the case,” Klein says.
Send Every Document in Order
Spot a blank page of a bank statement with nothing but a page number on it? Send that page to your attorney with the others, and don’t assume that it’s not needed, because your spouse’s lawyer is going to insist on it.
“By holding back that one page, the client might pay $250 in fees to produce it to opposing counsel,” he says. “Also, if you turn over documents to your attorney in their proper order, already photocopied, you can save an additional $250 to $1,000 in fees just to have your attorney and the attorney’s paralegal organize the documents.”
Be on Time
Show up five minutes late for a court hearing, and the judge may have already called the next case.
“Your case gets pushed to the end of the list, and you may have to wait for up to three hours to have your case heard,” Klein says. “Multiply three hours times the hourly rate of $300 an hour, and your tardiness just cost you $1,200 — as you will be billed for the attorney’s wait time.”
Talk to Your Lawyer about Your Budget
“In our practice, when we are aware of the financial constraints of our clients, I often offer then the opportunity to review records and highlight certain topics, create outlines and timelines and draft the factual sections of pleadings rather than paying me to do it,” says Kris Balekian Hayes, managing partner of Balekian Hayes, based in Dallas.
Try to Be Agreeable
Reach as many agreements with your spouse as possible, Hayes says. All litigation is expensive, so litigate the fewest number of issues possible. Try to have those difficult conversations with your spouse that may lead to an agreement and save you both attorney’s fees, she says.
Although you may love your coffee table, it may cost you $1,000 to fight your spouse for it — or $150 to just replace it.
“Throwing good money after bad is easy to do when you are emotionally charged up, so try your best to handle property decisions as reasonably as possible, as most things can be replaced,” Hayes says.