How to have an affordable divorce

How to have an affordable divorce

If there’s one easy point of agreement in the emotional upheaval that divorce brings, it’s that drawn-out legal battles can break the bank.

Hourly attorney fees can reach triple figures, according to Nicole Feuer, vice president of development and operations for the National Association of Divorce Professionals, a group of 600 divorce attorneys. The association estimates that the average cost of a divorce is $15,000 to $20,000, but contested divorces can be much more expensive. Disagreements over issues such as child custody can take years to resolve and increase costs. well over $100,000.

This is the case of Maggie Kim, who has been negotiating with her former husband for six years. Every five weeks, she flies from her home in Santa Monica, California, to visit her two teenage children in Paris, over whom her estranged husband has been granted custody. Ms. Kim, a 50-year-old musician and author of Divorce or die, a Substack newsletter, spent about $400,000 on her divorce, not including travel expenses. It’s money, she says crudely, that would have been much better spent paying for her children’s college education.

“I have retained 16 law firms in three countries, and it is very difficult to find a lawyer who will represent your interests,” she said.

She paid her legal fees with her income and “up to 11 credit cards, a personal loan, a loan from one of my best friends.”

The biggest challenge of divorce, many learn, can be trying to negotiate and control powerful emotions: anger, betrayal, grief, rage, disappointment. Too often, with lawyers as expensive proxies, each unresolved issue of a warring couple costs more and more money.

“I tell my clients all the time: You’re making the biggest legal and financial decisions of your life in the middle of the worst time,” said Kate Anthony, who produces a podcast called “The Divorce Survival Guide» and who has been trained to work with couples in high-conflict marriages involving domestic violence.

Choosing to “hire a lawyer immediately” – often a default choice – “is one of the worst things you can do,” she added. “The family court system loves divorce. “That’s how they make their money, through rage and bitterness.”

But there are ways to reduce the stress and expense of ending a marriage. These options include the use of a document service (ideally reviewed by a lawyer), mediation and collaborative divorce.

Vanessa McGrady, a California writer who was married for three years and became a mother during that time, said she “realized there were insurmountable problems” with her former husband and chose to use the documentary service. We the people for his divorce.

“It wasn’t controversial and it was easier because we didn’t have assets together,” she said. “We didn’t have an IRA. It was my condo and I made the payments.” She recommends having an attorney review a divorce document to ensure it is drafted correctly.

The process took a year and cost less than $2,000 because she had worked out her issues with her ex before their divorce proceedings, she said. Ms. McGrady, 55, was happy to have saved thousands of dollars for her own retirement or for her daughter’s future needs. “I don’t know anyone who had a divorce as simple and easy as we did, even though it was frustrating and sad at times,” she said. “Before you go down the rabbit hole of rage and revenge, think about where you want your money to go.”

Caitlin Steele, who lives in Seattle, used the mediation service of a start-up called Wevorce, which cost $750 when she divorced in 2017. At the time, Ms. Steele, a senior design manager at Atlassian, a software company, had little disposable income and had no children. She had watched a friend suffer the emotional and financial consequences of a difficult divorce that cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars and limited access to his child for six years.

She had been married 10 years when, she says, “the wheels started to fall off.” She filed for divorce, which was finalized six months later. Her husband earned between $180,000 and $90,000 a year, which left her, in San Francisco, at age 38, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate.

“I was in no position to hire a lawyer who would be motivated for a battle that neither of us was interested in,” said Ms. Steele, now 46. Her ex-husband didn’t want to divorce her, but they managed to end the divorce. civil marriage. “I would have ended up better off with a lawyer involved, but at what cost emotionally and financially? “I’m proud that we were able to do it, and it wasn’t always easy, but we were both motivated to finish it without resorting to lawyers who wanted to make more money,” she said. she declared.

Ms. Steele cautions others who seek mediation to be prepared to come to the table with respect. “You have to have a balance of power and a commitment to doing this as efficiently and painlessly as possible,” she said.

For those who have significant assets to share and those who will not easily reach an agreement using a document or mediation service, collaborative divorce is another option. Nanci Smith, whose law firm in Williston, Vt., focuses on this process, describes it as “an evolving process” approved by the American Bar Association and the courts. “This has been around for 30 years and there are lawyers in every state who can do it,” said Ms. Smith, the author of a recent book on the subject.

“Divorce is 80 percent emotional, 10 percent legal and 10 percent financial,” she said. “You cannot make important decisions when you are overwhelmed by grief, shame or rage. Every emotion arises. She insists that every couple consult a mental health professional before pursuing a divorce.

In a collaborative divorce, three key players – an attorney, a financial professional and a therapist – work together to help the couple stay calm while gathering all the necessary information.

“We create a safe space for our clients to process what they are facing,” Ms. Smith said. “We collect the necessary data and process it. Everyone has a role, so a couple only moves forward when they are psychologically ready. This allows people to come to the table and unravel in a respectful way.

It is the most expensive of these alternatives, ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 or more, Ms. Smith said. “The range is enormous, depending on the assets and the level of conflict over them. It’s still less expensive than going to court,” she said.

Like using a documentation service, mediation is a less expensive way to divorce, but it also relies on the goodwill and cooperation of the couple to succeed. Erik Wheeler, a former software expert, retrained to offer this service to his clients six years ago, thanks to a master’s degree in mediation and applied conflict studies from Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont.

“The goal of mediation is to work together to achieve an outcome that works for both,” he said. “The main advantage is that the couple has full control of the process and can take as much time as they need.”

He offers an initial two-hour session for $440 to provide an overview of the process and help couples understand the law. “There are a lot of misunderstandings, which fuel fear and create conflict,” he said. “Most people end up working well together. “It’s quite surprising.” The total cost of a negotiated divorce, he estimates, is about $3,000.

For Jeff Bogle, a Philadelphia writer and father of two daughters, mediation proved to be the best choice when he divorced his wife of 17 years in 2020.

“This might be the most amicable divorce you’ve ever heard,” Mr. Bogle, 47, said. “We just broke up.”

For a total cost of $350, the ex-spouses easily negotiated who would keep the family home (he did) and arrived at a sum that his ex-wife would pay for property taxes, child support and other expenses. She earned about $200,000 a year, twice her income, Mr. Bogle said.

The key to their ability to divorce quickly and inexpensively was to align on all of their issues. They did not have a custody battle over their children, then ages 11 and 15. The house was kept in both of their names, and Mr Bogle said his ex-wife would buy it back when their youngest was 18.

“To do things the way we did it, you have to be friendly or at least on friendly terms, not greedy,” he said. “We didn’t want to hurt ourselves financially. If you are willing to go the distance and be honest and fair, you can save a lot of money.

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David B.Otero

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