With an extremely high divorce rate in the U.S., there is an entire industry that thrives on couples separating. A divorce is not just a life decision that changes your marital status, it changes your financial situation as well.
For many people, the cost involved in getting a divorce can come as a surprise. According to Linda E. Cole, author of "Living Together in Divorce," the average cost of divorce can be around $15,000, but it can vary significantly depending on a number of factors. The cost of divorce can vary based on how cooperative the couple is at arriving at settlement decisions.
The cheapest form of divorce in the U.S. is the pro se litigation divorce, in which you represent yourself in the case. In pro se divorce litigation, you are responsible for filing all the legal forms. So, you agree on any matters of dispute with your spouse before proceeding with the divorce. The divorce is final once the judge signs the divorce documents. The costs involved in this are only the filing fees and the court costs.
Another alternative is to go for mediation. In this method, a mediator acts as the third party and helps the couple resolve issues and reach a mutually agreeable settlement. This is a voluntary process and the spouses have control over the output of the divorce. However, the process greatly helps the couple in overcoming issues without hiring attorneys. The costs associated here are the fees paid to the mediator, fees paid for renewing the agreement and the filing fees. This is the best option for couples as long as they can work together through the divorce by arriving at a fair settlement. If the couple had signed a prenuptial agreement, then the settlements can be arrived at fairly quickly.
If the divorcing couple cannot come to an agreement on how they want to settle things, then they will have to litigate the case in divorce court. This is where it starts getting expensive. To start with, both spouses will hire their attorneys. In some cases, the court may direct one spouse to pay the attorney fees for the other spouse. The legal and court costs will have to be paid upfront. Both spouses will have to pay fees to the lawyers that charge on a per hour basis. The hourly charges of the lawyer will depend on the lawyer's experience and the city you live in.
The more you battle over issues, the more expensive your divorce will get. For example, if you and your spouse disagree over who should take custody over the child, then the process of divorce will get longer, and it also means more work and more fees for the attorney. To decide for child custody, the court may also go for psychiatric evaluations and you will have to pay the fee for that. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem, and you will have this added expense. You should not ignore other costs such as travel expenses and loss of income from missing work.
If you and your spouse cannot settle matters related to the distribution of assets, then your attorney will have to work with a financial analyst or a real estate appraiser for the additional help, all of which is an added expense for you. The more the spouses refuse to cooperate and collaborate on these issues, the more difficult and expensive the divorce can get. It is not difficult to find stories of people who ended up spending a fortune on the costs associated with divorce, just to find out later how easily and smoothly it could have been handled. A collaborative divorce can really go a long way in saving you a major portion of your divorce expense. A divorce also has tax consequences. Instead of filing for taxes jointly, each spouse will have to file returns as a single tax payer, which will affect the tax rates, standard deduction amounts and even tax breaks.
The Bottom Line
If a divorce is looked at as a decision with major financial implications, then the divorcing couple can realize that there are ways to reduce costs despite sitting on opposite sides of the fence. You can break up without breaking the bank.