Deciding to end your marriage is always difficult, even if you both know that it’s time to move on. Unfortunately, while you’re dealing with the emotional ramifications of this process, you’ll also have to figure out how to pay for a divorce.
“Divorce can be a very expensive venture,” warned Raymond Hekmat, a family law attorney at Hekmat Law & Mediation APC in California.
Just how expensive? According to GOBankingRates, the average cost to file for divorce in the U.S. is $215 and the average fee for a divorce attorney totals $10,180.
If you’re wondering how to pay for a divorce when it costs so much, here are five ways to help, along with tips to make a divorce affordable.
1. Arrange a payment plan with your attorney
While attorney fees can be high, you might not need to pay the entire cost upfront.
“If a client can pay a full retainer, I sometimes allow payments,” said Shaolaine Loving, a family law attorney at Loving Law Ltd. in Las Vegas.
A retainer is an initial payment that’s usually several thousand dollars. Once you’ve paid your initial retainer, attorneys can structure payment plans to meet client needs.
Discuss maximum monthly payments and payment timelines. Also, ask if there’s a transaction fee, if you’ll owe interest, and how much the interest would be.
2. Pay with marital funds or ask the court to order your spouse to pay fees
It’s especially difficult to pay for a divorce if your income is lower than your spouse’s or you aren’t earning income. One option is to pay divorce costs out of shared marital assets, such as joint bank accounts.
“If a couple has the funds, they’ll pay the initial retainer and subsequent fees from marital money,” said Gabriella Dylan Formosa, a family law attorney at Greenblatt Law LLC in New York. “This allows both spouses to pay an attorney even if one of the spouses has historically been the primary wage earner.”
Unfortunately, not every couple has enough shared marital assets. In these situations, if one spouse can afford a lawyer and the other can’t, there’s a solution.
“When one spouse controls most of the income and assets, request an order from the judge freeing up assets to pay for your legal fees, or even requiring your spouse to pay fees directly,” advised Andrew Winters, a family law attorney at Cohen & Winters in New Hampshire.
The judge could order shared property be sold to make money available to pay divorce costs. A higher-earning spouse could also be ordered to use their income to pay for the lower earner.
“See if you can get a court order for your spouse to pay,” Loving said. Your attorney will help petition the court.
3. Borrow money from family
Borrowing money from loved ones is another solution. Winters recommended asking for a loan even if you could cover costs from savings.
“The best option is if a third party, such as a parent, can pay for the divorce,” Winters said. “That gives your spouse the least amount of knowledge or control over your legal fees. If you pay from savings or a credit card, mandatory financial disclosures allow your spouse to know exactly how much you’re paying, and even object if they believe the fees are unreasonable.”
If you borrow, make sure your loved one understands legal fees could be unpredictable. Discuss the maximum they’d be willing to lend, when they’ll expect to be repaid, and whether they’ll charge interest. Put your agreement in writing so that there’s no argument.
4. Use a personal loan
Many people are uncomfortable borrowing from loved ones and don’t have savings, but they still need to get a divorce. If this sounds like you, look into a personal loan.
“Taking out a loan is one way to get everything paid,” suggested Michelle T. Dellino, managing attorney at Dellino Law Group, a family law firm in Seattle.
Make sure the loan has a large enough limit to fund all legal costs. Shop around for a personal loan and compare interest rates, origination fees, and repayment terms.
Before you borrow, estimate what your monthly payments will be and ensure the loan will be affordable after your divorce, especially if you’ll be on a lower budget without your spouse’s income.
5. Pay with a credit card
A final option is to charge your divorce. “We see more and more clients paying by credit card each year,” said Elysa Greenblatt, a divorce attorney at Greenblatt Law.
If you only have joint credit cards, you could still use the card to pay. “For a joint credit card, the judge will hold you both accountable for the charges until the divorce is final, and then the judge can allocate the amount of lawyer fees for either party to pay,” Dellino said.
Unfortunately, credit card interest rates are often high. If charging your divorce on a credit card is your only option, compare credit card interest rates to find the lowest possible rate and pay off the debt ASAP to avoid more costs.
Money-saving tips make it easier to figure out how to pay for a divorce
While there’s no escaping the fact that divorces cost money, figuring out how to pay for a divorce is easier if you’re smart about the process.
- Opt for an uncontested divorce: “The easiest and most obvious way to keep divorce costs down would be to start with an uncontested divorce,” Loving said. An uncontested divorce is one in which you and your spouse agree on key issues such as custody and property division so that you don’t have to pay court fees and legal costs of litigation.
- Minimize court appearances: “A court appearance that lasts 15 minutes can cost thousands of dollars between attorney travel time and waiting for your case to be called,” Formosa said. The more issues in which you can find a compromise, the less time you’ll spend in court.
- Don’t use your divorce to punish your spouse: “I’m continuously amazed by the needless fighting over petty points,” Winters said. If you drag out your divorce by fighting over minor issues, the process will cost more.
- Be smart about mediation: “Mediation can help parties stay out of court,” Hekmat said. But Formosa warned mediation isn’t always a low-cost alternative because if you and your spouse won’t agree, you’ll have to start the process again.
- Ask about unbundled services: With unbundled services, you handle easy tasks but hire an attorney for specific purposes, such as appearing in court. “It ends up being less money out of pocket since you’re only paying for the attorney to do that specific task,” Loving said.
- Split up your legal work: “When you hire a lawyer, check to see whether there are associates or paralegals at lower rates,” recommended Greenblatt. “Often they can do some of the day-to-day work to keep costs down.”
By making smart and strategic choices about what issues a lawyer handles, and which lawyer helps you, divorce should be much more affordable.
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