Everybody knows that the best way to keep the cost of divorce low is to settle all of your issues amicably and stay out of court. That is hardly breaking news. But, what do you do if you are having trouble settling your case yourself? What happens if your spouse is being totally unreasonable, or if you find yourself fighting in court even though that wasn’t what you wanted? Is there a way you can keep the cost of divorce low even if your case is not going as amicably as you had hoped?
The Unfortunate Truth About the Cost of Divorce
The first thing you need to understand is that if your spouse is hell-bent on fighting the War of the Roses, your divorce is going to be expensive. Period. If your finances are extremely complicated, or your spouse has mental health issues, or you and your spouse won’t talk to each other at all, you are not going to get through your divorce cheaply. But, even when the circumstances of your case are less than ideal, there are still some things you can do to keep your cost of divorce from skyrocketing completely out of control.
Here are 5 tips that can help you keep your cost of divorce low, even when things are not going as smoothly as you had hoped.
- Educate Yourself. The more you know about how the divorce process works, what the laws in your state require, and what you need to do to keep moving your case forward toward a resolution, the more prepared and the more effective you are going to be. Educating yourself also has the added bonus of making it less likely that you will inadvertently get yourself into a mess that your lawyer then has to get you out of.
Of course, unless you are a lawyer yourself, you are never going to know all of the ins and outs of divorce law. That is why you need a divorce lawyer – to guide you through the divorce process with knowledge and expertise. However, you don’t need to pay a divorce lawyer anywhere from $150 – $550 an hour to tell you that if you are the non-custodial parent, you are going to have to pay child support. That kind of information is basic.
The bottom line is this: the more educated you are, the more prepared you are going to be. The more prepared you are, the more you will be able to understand and figure out how you can work through your particular divorce issues without spending a fortune in the process.
- Use the right professional for the right problem. Your lawyer is not your therapist. Lawyers typically charge anywhere from two to three times as much as a therapist – and most lawyers have no particular mental health training at all. So, if your spouse is doing stupid things, and pushing all of your buttons, and making you totally crazy, the person you should be calling is your therapist, not your lawyer.
On the other hand, therapists are powerless when it comes to enforcing court orders or getting your spouse to pay you the support you are owed. If your spouse has locked you out of your house, or drained the joint checking account, or threatened to hurt you or the kids, complaining about that to your therapist will not help you get back into your house, replace the missing money, or get you an Order of Protection.
- Run a Cost/Benefit Analysis of Every Issue You Want to Fight About. This may sound cold and calculating, but on a very real level, dividing up your assets, sorting through your debts, and dealing with the financial issues involved in your divorce are all business decisions. If you spend $1000 fighting over a $50 vacuum cleaner, you have just wasted $950. No one cares that your mother gave you that vacuum cleaner as a wedding gift and that it holds great sentimental value for you. It’s a vacuum cleaner. Get over it!
Of course, there are things that probably mean more to you than their dollar value. Hopefully, your spouse will not be nasty enough to purposely refuse to give you something that s/he knows means the world to you. But, the truth is – that happens! Sometimes your spouse is just going to be a jerk. That’s when you need to take a step back, and really evaluate what the thing that you are fighting for is really worth. Then, if you really want to fight, you fight … but you know what the fight is costing you.
- Don’t drag things out. The longer your case is open, the more your costs increase. Courts don’t like to let cases sit idly on their docket. To make sure that each case is moving forward, judges require lawyers to appear in court periodically and advise them of the status of the case. Each time your lawyer goes to court, it costs you money.
What’s more, having an open divorce case actually increases the possibility for conflict between you and your spouse. If you know that you have to go to court anyway, it becomes really tempting to escalate what might otherwise be an ordinary disagreement into a litigated issue. Once the case is closed, even if you and your ex disagree about something, you are much less likely to go back to court and start a brand new court battle unless it is a really big issue.
- Be reasonable. You are not going to get everything you want. That’s just not the way divorce (or life, for that matter) works. If your spouse has made a settlement proposal that is at least in the ballpark of where you are likely going to end up, consider it!
I’m not saying that you should cave in to every crazy demand your spouse may have. You certainly don’t want to walk away with nothing while your spouse gets everything. But, resolving a case means compromising. And, unfortunately, compromising with your soon-to-be-ex doesn’t always feel good.
The worst thing you can do if you want to keep your costs down and resolve your case is to dig your heels in an issue “on principle” alone. True, sometimes principles matter. But, if you find yourself resisting every possible compromise “on principle,” you might want to take a deeper look at what is going on. Chances are, it is not the “principle,” but, rather, your emotions, that are getting in the way of resolving your case.
No Matter What You Do, Your Divorce is Going to Cost Money
Divorce is just not an inexpensive process. No matter how much you try to keep your divorce costs low, you are still probably going to end up spending more money than you planned.
The truth is that divorce is like construction: it always takes longer and costs more than you think.
Even still, if you use these tips, you may be able to keep your divorce from costing so much that it takes you years to pay for it.