Minimizing the costs of ending your marriage

Ways to Reduce the Financial and Emotional Costs of a Divorce

by Sarah P.


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Divorces are expensive. According to a 2006 survey conducted by Forbes.com, the average divorce in the United States costs between $15,000 and $30,000 with much of this money going towards attorney fees. But, divorces cost much more than money. Family relationships, children, reputations, careers, and self-esteem can all be casualties of divorce.

While the cost of an attorney's representation varies from state to state and even from city to city, there are a variety of things that a person can do to save themselves both financial and emotional costs during a divorce.

1) Get organized.

While every case is different, all divorces have something in common, namely paperwork. Depending on the case, you might be required to provide bank statements, investment and retirement account information, copies of your bills and expenses incurred on behalf of your kids, real estate information, paycheck stubs, etc. While your attorney must review the information you provide, it is likely not necessary that she pour over every page or organize what you provide for herself. The easiest way to save money on attorney fees is to present your lawyer with any requested information in an organized and thought-out fashion. Don't let your lawyer (or her assistant) organize your bank statements for $300/hour when you could do it yourself at home for free. Make spreadsheets. Highlight or tab the information to make it more user friendly. Remember that your lawyer has to bill you for her time, so anything you can do to reduce the amount of time she needs to understand your case saves you money.

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2) Behave yourself.

Any time you have a case pending before a court, your life is under scrutiny, and your behavior can cost you money. Don't break the law. Don't use drugs. Don't be verbally abusive in texts, voicemails, email, or on Facebook. Don't attempt to hide or steal assets and never involve your children in your divorce case. Additionally, you should not accuse your ex of doing any of those things unless you have a very good reason to do so. Drug and alcohol testing, criminal background checks, and extensive searches for hidden assets all cost money, and the time it takes your attorney to explore these issues costs even more. Where child custody is an issue, bad behavior (or accusations of such) can result in the court appointing an advocate for your children at your expense. Costly home studies and supervised visitation can also result from mud-slinging. As a general rule, with accusations and bad behavior comes a divorce proceeding that's more financially and emotionally draining, so behave.

3) Know that while your attorney is sometimes referred to as a "counselor," he/she is not your counselor.

A good attorney cares about your case and about your problems. She is your advocate in the legal system and focuses on helping you resolve your case in a way most favorable to you. However, your attorney likely has no background in psychology or sociology, and her time costs exponentially more than a counselor. While you want to make sure to briefly inform your attorney of any behavior of your ex that you think could be relevant to your divorce, do not use your attorney's office as a place to frequently vent frustrations or as a sounding board for personal problems that cannot be addressed by a court. Doing so will run up your bill without advancing your case in any way.

4) Remember the golden rule.

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Divorce is the unfortunate result of a failed relationship, and it is natural to feel hurt, angry, and even mean. But, being nasty never helps. Heavily contested divorces always cost more than non-contested ones, and this cost is counted in more than dollars. A nasty divorce can ruin reputations and affect employment. Where children are involved, the stakes are even higher, as you will be interacting with your ex until the children are at least 18 years old. While serious problems should never be ignored, generalized mud-slinging rarely benefits anyone. And, as more and more states move to a no-fault divorce system, it is likely not even terribly helpful to your case to show that your ex is a bad person, so you risk further poisoning a relationship for nothing.

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So, take the high road. Agree to informally exchange documents between lawyers instead of doing expensive discovery. Ignore the text that implies you made a parenting error. Avoid posting a mean comment on Facebook, even when it's true. Switch visitation days if you didn't have plans with the children anyway. Consent to the continuance request. Doing so could save you a significant amount of money and stress. Plus, the roles might be reversed someday and you'll be glad you did.


Sarah P. is a domestic attorney, practicing in the St. Louis, Missouri area for 10 years.

Take the Next Step:

  • Get more tips and advice for reducing the financial costs of divorce by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
  • Need legal advice? Visit NOLO today for your legal needs.
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