May 22

3 Reasons a Cheap Divorce Can Be Your Most Expensive Mistake



divorce blog, divorce financial planning, divorce tips, DIY divorce

Black and white photo of a beautiful surprised woman who didn't understand the danger of a cheap divorce.Spending tens of thousands of dollars (or more!) on your divorce feels like intentionally setting fire to your life savings. No one wants to do that. … hence the allure of the cheap divorce!

“Get a divorce without lawyers.”

“You can get divorced for just $499.”

“Cheap Divorce: Cheap, Easy and Fast Solution.”

The internet is full of headlines just like those.

The problem, of course, is that in real life (as opposed to in flashy internet ads or on highway billboards) divorce is anything but fast, easy or cheap.

But that still doesn’t keep us from hoping that the promise of a cheap divorce is possible. We dream that somehow, against all odds and good common sense, the divorce we face will be different.

It will be simple.

It will be affordable.

And maybe, just maybe, it won’t hurt quite so much.Maze of white squares with one covered with dollar bills and a red question mark on top of it.

A Cheap Divorce Case Study

Years ago I had a client. We’ll call him Sam (not his real name).

Sam had a steady job as a mechanic. Sally, his wife, worked a few hours a week as a teacher’s aide. She also stayed home and raised their three kids.

Sally and Sam had been married for ten years. But, after their third child, their marriage started to fray. They fought a lot. They had little in common. After awhile, they existed together more as tense roommates than as husband and wife.

Eventually, Sally told Sam she wanted a divorce.

Because money was tight, Sam and Sally decided to divorce on the cheap. Sally went to a lawyer who promised that he could get her divorce done from start to finish for $500, plus court costs, in just a few months.

There was a lot about the divorce that Sam didn’t like. But he went along because he didn’t want to have to borrow money from his parents, or run up a giant credit card bill, just to get divorced. So, he didn’t get a lawyer. He just signed the papers and that was that.

Sure enough, a few months and $500 in attorney’s fees later, Sam and Sally were divorced.

Four months after that, Sam was in my office, spitting mad.

The Fighting Doesn’t End When Your Divorce Does

Sally refused to drive the kids to or from’s Sam’s house. If Sam wanted to see the kids, he had to do all the driving himself.

Sally also started enrolling the kids in activities Sam knew nothing about – but was supposed to pay for!  She never gave Sam any information about where the kids were going or what they were doing.

Sally said she didn’t have to tell Sam anything. Sam said she did. Since their divorce documents said nothing either way, technically, they were both right.

Sam and Sally’s entire divorce judgment, including their parenting plan AND their marital settlement agreement, was less than 8 pages long. (HINT: They should have been at least 30 pages long.) The terms were all standard, “cookie cutter” terms.

Sam’s divorce documents didn’t cover half of the issues they should have covered. The issues they did cover were written badly. Sam’s agreement had more holes in it than the plotline in the final season of the Game of Thrones.

Because of that, Sally and Sam had to go back to court and re-negotiate everything they hadn’t dealt with in their original, cheap divorce. Unfortunately, trying to negotiate AFTER their divorce was infinitely more difficult than it would have been BEFORE their divorce.

Ultimately, Sam’s divorce cost him tens of thousands of dollars and took four years to resolve. That was much more than it would have been if Sam had everything done right the first time.

In Sam’s defense, he didn’t know he was making such giant mistakes. He thought he was doing everything right. He was proud that he and Sally had been able to get divorced without spending much money.Explosive barrel symbolizing the dangers of a cheap divorce floating in water with "Danger" painted on the barrel

The 3 Dangers of a Cheap Divorce

When you’re facing a divorce, the only thing you want is to be DONE! You are in so much pain and your life is such a mess that all you want is for the pain to stop so you can get yourself back on track.

And, of course, like Sam, you also don’t want to spend a fortune in the process of getting divorced.

But, in divorce, just as in everything else in life, you get what you pay for.

Getting a “cheap divorce” may not cost you as much money on the front end, but it can cost you many times more on the back end.

There are three ways that a cheap divorce can end up being way more expensive in the long run:

  1. You don’t deal with all of the important issues in your divorce, so you and your ex end up fighting about those issues later in post-decree court.
  2. You agree to take less money than you are entitled to receive, not because you choose to do so, but simply because you don’t know any better.
  3. Your paperwork isn’t written as tightly as it could be, which leads to fights after your divorce.

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What You Miss Matters

 People usually miss important issues in their divorce for one of two reasons:

  1. They don’t realize the issues exist, so they never deal with them; or
  2. They know they have an issue, but they don’t think that they have to deal with it right now. So, to keep the peace, and get through their divorce quickly and cheaply, they simply avoid dealing with the issue.

The first mistake is one of ignorance. The second is one of denial. Both are potentially huge mistakes.

(NOTE: While accurate statistics are hard to come by, the judges I’ve talked to estimate that at least 25 – 30% of all of the cases in family court are couples fighting AFTER their divorce or parentage case is over.)


Most divorcing couples know in a general way what should happen in their divorce. They know that they should decide what will happen to their money and their kids. They know they need to deal with the issue of support. But that may be all they know.

The problem is that topics like “money,” “kids,” and even “support,” are so broad that each of them encompasses dozens of smaller, more specific issues.

It’s those little issues that couples opting for a cheap divorce often miss. Unfortunately, those are the issues that often come back and haunt those couples later.

For example, let’s say that John and Mary are divorcing. They agree that John should pay Mary $1000 per month in child support. That’s all their divorce decree says about child support.

Mary and John both think they covered child support in their divorce. But what they didn’t cover were the details of how those payments would be made.

John gets paid every two weeks. Does he pay Mary every two weeks or once a month? Does he pay Mary by cash, check or direct deposit? WHEN does he pay Mary? On the first day of the month, the last day of the month, or something in between? What happens if John doesn’t pay Mary on time? Does she get interest? What happens when one of their three children turns 18? Does John keep paying Mary $1000 per month, or does he then pay her something different?

As long as John and Mary get along after their divorce, they can probably work out all those details themselves. But if they DON’T get along, and they don’t agree on any one of these issues, they’re likely going to end up fighting about them in court after their divorce.


If you and your spouse don’t agree on how to handle any particular issue involving your money or your kids now, it’s highly unlikely that you will magically be able to agree on those issues later, after you’re divorced.

The problem is that the only way to get a “cheap divorce” is to agree with your spouse about everything. If you disagree on anything, your divorce costs start going up.

One way to reach a total agreement is to avoid dealing with the issues you know you disagree about. But kicking the can down the road on the hard issues only sets you up for a bigger fight later.

When that fight happens, you won’t have the same leverage or motivation that you have to deal with issues while your divorce is in progress. Plus, it’s often more difficult and expensive to change something after the fact than it is to just do it right the first time.

Close up of dollar bill with a whole torn in the middle and the word Divorce, signifying the cost of divorce.

Your Cheap Divorce Won’t Be So Cheap if You Cheat Yourself

No one wants to dredge up years’ worth of financial documents just to get divorced. No one wants to pore over credit reports and income tax returns to make sure that nothing gets missed in their divorce.

Yet, unless you do the hard work of discovering and analyzing your complete financial situation – including your spouse’s financial situation – BEFORE you’re divorced, you may end up cheating yourself out of money in your divorce.

How can that be?

Maybe you miss dividing up a life insurance policy that had a cash value. Maybe you forget about an old joint credit card that you both still owe money on. Or maybe you don’t understand the tax implications of how you’re dividing your assets, so the amount of money you end up with in your pocket turns out to be way less than what it was on paper.

Making any one of these mistakes, as well as dozens more, can cost you dearly. What’s more, you won’t know that any of them happened until after your divorce is final. By that time, it may be too late to fix your mistake. Plus, even if it’s not too late to fix things, doing so will cost you time and money.

Again, if you have to go back to court after your divorce, then your initial “cheap” divorce can end up being very expensive.

If you don’t want your divorce costs to soar unnecessarily, you need a divorce checklist.  Get yours now!

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Cheap Divorce Documents May Not Be Good Divorce Documents

If your divorce documents are not thorough, complete, and well-written, they’re useless.

As long as you and your ex get along and can work out any issues you may have after your divorce, it may not matter if your documents are useless. But if you can’t, then your divorce documents are critical.

There are 3 problems with getting cheap divorce documents:

  1. Unless you are a divorce professional yourself, you won’t know if your divorce documents are good or not;
  2. By the time you realize they’re garbage, you’ve already got a problem;
  3. The only way to fix the documents is by going to court. (Plus, some mistakes can’t be fixed!)

If you’re like most people, you have no idea what your divorce documents are supposed to say. You don’t know if they’re missing critical information. You don’t know if they’ve been written in the right format. Once you get your documents, all you know is that they’re done.

What you may not realize is that if you and your ex disagree on something after your divorce, whatever your divorce documents say will determine how you resolve your dispute. If your documents don’t say anything about whatever you’re arguing about, that’s a problem. The same thing is true if what they say is unclear, or can be interpreted in many ways.

When your divorce documents don’t resolve your post-divorce dispute, then you have to resolve it some other way. No matter how you do that, you’re going to end up going back to court. (The only way to fix a court document is by changing it in court.)

Going back to court increases the overall cost of your divorce.Tree with leaves in the shape of a dollar sign flying a way signifying that divorce is expensive.

The Bottom Line

Every divorcing person would love to have an inexpensive, affordable divorce. There are ways you can do that. Unfortunately, opting for a cheap divorce may not be one of them.

When you’re looking at the cost of divorce, you need to look at ALL the costs. That includes the cost of going back to court to resolve issues that didn’t get resolved properly the first time around.

When you include those costs in the total cost of your divorce, you may find that your “cheap divorce” really wasn’t so cheap after all.


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  • I kind of resent the header. I have already spent 10,000$ in loans and only have a soft of stipulation in place. Can’t afford another attorney. My attorney was highly recommended and had many great reviews. I am now in a really rental with a 16 year old vehicle. My husband has the house the cars the dogs and is now on vacation with his girlfriend! How is that? I’d have been better filing myself. So, no, I don’t believe lawyers are the answer, husband won’t mediate……the end, I’m 58 and worked part time because I believed my “husband”. 30 years gone, no money, I want to move on but can’t afford to!!!!!

    • I appreciate your sentiment. But the point of this article was to let people know that there is value in getting proper legal advice. It’s also to warn them about the dangers of going the DIY divorce route. That’s not the route you took. While you may feel like you’re no better off, you’ll never know. The truth is you could be much worse off.

      I’m not saying that lawyers are the be all and end all in any situation. I’m not saying that it’s right that you’ve spent $10,000 and only have a stipulation in place. I’m not even suggesting that everyone needs to get a lawyer for full-on representation in every single divorce case. There are ways to get legal advice in more economically. What’s more, if you have absolutely nothing to lose, then maybe you don’t need a lawyer.

      What I am saying is that if you try to do your divorce yourself when you don’t know what you’re doing, you can end up with problems you never knew existed. Trying to fix them after the fact is difficult and expensive. Sometimes it’s impossible.

      That’s all.

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