If you go online and search for a cheap divorce, you will see many links to various sites, all touting divorce priced anywhere from $29 to $299. It looks quick and easy. But is it really?
A divorce is a major, life-changing decision, because in today’s world, divorce can be very complicated. It will literally affect the rest of your life, and if children are involved, your children’s lives. Yet, for many couples, the tendency is to opt for the quick and easy route, believing that the cheaper the better because that money is needed for other things now. It can also be a time where stress and panic of the unknown are guiding them, rather than logic and common sense.
Sometimes, a long-term gain makes more sense than the short-term one. But that can be hard to see when you just want to get it over with. In the US, it seems we are perfectly willing to fork out big bucks to get married (an average of $30,000!), yet are reticent to spend money when it comes to ending it. Perhaps, in light of today’s divorce rates, we should consider the opposite? Living with the outcome of a divorce can be more finite than getting married.
Now, this doesn’t mean a cheap divorce shouldn’t be an option, but you need to be clear in what you get and how it will affect your future. For many couples who have no children and no complicated assets and debts to split, it can be the perfect solution. Everyone else may need to look further into the matter and not give in to a normal desire to save a few dollars up front. The fact is, children and finances are the two things that can quickly complicate a divorce.
Most of the online sites offering cheap divorces are generally document-preparation services, or for documents only (which are generally free to download from your local court). You aren’t going to get legal advice or counseling on the many important decisions that you will need to make. You must be in complete agreement and have great communication with your spouse on all issues, and that can be difficult, if not impossible. Once these documents are filed (and there will a cost for that, too) a judge reviewing your paperwork can kick it back for numerous reasons and you might need to start over again.
Think of it like filing your own taxes. If you can fill out the EZ form, great. No problem. But for each form you add, each tax deduction you take, and the more complicated your finances, the greater the chances of making a mistake.
You also need to make certain the forms you get online are the most current legal forms for filing in your state. Otherwise, your paperwork might not be valid with the court or get finalized. Note: Many of the sites offering legal forms will guarantee they are state-specific and, if rejected by the court, a full refund will be given to you after providing specific reasons and proof, but you would not compensated for your time, effort and the original filing fees.
In a Plan For Wealth, Dollars and Sense feature, “Ten Ways To Keep From Screwing Up Your Divorce,” CPA Ginita Wall says, “The only thing worse than a bad marriage is a bad divorce.” First on her list is to get professional help. Why is this so important?
To do divorce right, you need to educate yourself on what a divorce entails. You need to dig into your married life and sort it out into categories: legal, financial, and emotional. That alone is not an easy task and a great reason to get assistance. It needs to be done right in the beginning, after all, you do not want to have to revisit your decisions, dredging up old emotions and pain, as well as costing even more money.
Getting assistance with your divorce doesn’t necessarily mean each of you needs to hire a lawyer. You do not have to use an attorney to get a divorce, there is no law requiring it. Many people choose to act pro se, which means you represent yourself in court, and that would be the case in a DIY (cheap) divorce. It is also possible to get legal advice without retaining a lawyer, and sometimes unbundled services are offered as an option as well.
If you are determined not to let your divorce turn into a war-like scenario, there are options available today to avoid the traditional, litigated divorce, which can be costly — emotionally and financially. You can go with a collaborative law option, where you still have two lawyers but an agreement is usually signed up-front to work together to reach a final settlement. This process is generally less contentious, but still involves hiring two attorneys and possibly other professionals to work out details for an equitable splitting of assets and debts, writing a sustainable parenting plan, and determining alimony.
Mediation is another way to finalize your divorce, including dividing assets and debts, parenting time and custody, alimony, and child support. The final resolutions will be outlined and provided in a separate agreement that must be filed with the court with all of the other legal paperwork required. Using an impartial, third party to mediate your divorce can be helpful, even for couples with a high level of conflict, because the professional is trained to keep you on track by resolving issues between you.
There are also new, forward-thinking companies, like Wevorce, that has combined the idea of collaboration, mediation and technology to create a hybrid way to divorce in an amicable manner. If you would like a comparison of all options available to you and what you can expect from each one, the e-book Before You Say ‘I Don’t’ is a good resource to understand the differences between pro se, litigation, collaboration, mediation, and Wevorce.
Even if you don’t choose a DIY divorce to save money, there are ways to save whatever method you use. In Cathy Meyers’ article “How To Keep Your Divorce From Breaking The Bank” for About.com, she offers some realistic and sound advice:
- Keep your expectations realistic.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
- Don’t let it turn into a War of the Roses.
- Stay focused on the here and now.
- Always consider implications to taxes.
- Don’t overlook anything.
- Get rid of those joint accounts.
- Think about the effort and expense of a new career.
Whatever you decide, make your choice with a clear head. If you are willing to work jointly, to openly communicate with each other, and to make sound decisions for the good of your family, you can create a firm foundation for the future without jeopardizing your pocket book.