When you and your spouse have come to the painful decision to divorce, having little or no funds available for the process can make the situation even more difficult to cope with. However, there are actually many options available to save money on the divorce process and make it less painful financially.
Remain Civil With Your Spouse
According to David Reischer, Esq., CEO of LegalAdvice.com, keeping your relationship with your soon-to-be ex-spouse friendly and cooperative can be the best way to ensure divorce remains low cost. When the two parties cannot agree, this leads to a contested divorce which means more legal fees. If the spouses can agree on everything beforehand, this is called an uncontested divorce. Reischer advises that an uncontested divorce is "cheaper" as you will not need an attorney to work through any contested issues. Working together, as difficult as it may be, will ultimately keep the cost of the divorce down.
Use Attorneys Wisely
Attorney fees can most definitely be expensive but you can cut down on the fees by using attorneys only for certain aspects of the divorce. Divorce attorney Sonia Frontera believes that "going uninformed or unrepresented through the divorce process is risky. At the very least I recommend a consultation with an attorney to understand the law in your jurisdiction and how it applies to your specific situation." Paying just a consultation fee while doing the paperwork in another way can be significantly cheaper.
Ask for a Discount or Installment Plan
Another option is to ask the attorney if they are willing to reduce their fee considering your financial circumstances. While not all attorneys will do this, you can always ask and may be pleasantly surprised to find they agree to a reduced rate. Some attorneys may also allow you to pay the fees in installments rather than all at once. This gives you a chance to pay the fees as you are settled into your new life and hopefully have funds coming in after the divorce.
Contact Legal Aid and Non-Profit Services
Frontera also suggests that low-income clients "check out your local Legal Services office." These are available in many cities and they can offer a wealth of information on the divorce process as well as the forms you will need. LawHelp.org is a website that maintains a list of Legal Aid and other low-cost legal services by state. Your state's bar association can also assist you with local resource information.
Private Legal Non-Profit Groups
In addition to Legal Services or Legal Aid which are usually government offices, look into whether there are any private non-profits in your area. While they are not located everywhere, you can find in some cities and counties non-profits that have volunteer attorneys who can help you with consultations and paperwork. Frontera also suggests contacting your local law school if there is one near you. Sometimes these schools maintain low-cost legal clinics where students can get experience offering advice and even taking on cases.
Hire a Mediator
Another lower cost option is to hire a mediator to work on the divorce with you and your spouse. Mediation works well if you and your spouse disagree on some aspects of the divorce but do not have major, intractable disagreements. A mediator is trained to help you both work through those issues amicably and come to a decision you both can accept. Divorce mediation can still cost a few thousand dollars depending on the complexity of your case, but that may represent huge savings compared to having attorneys work through the same issues. You can find divorce mediators through online directories and referrals from local attorneys and marriage counselors.
Do the Paperwork Yourself
Processing all the paperwork on your own may seem overwhelming, but if you both agree on all the details around the divorce, it's the cheapest option overall. The cost will only involve the filing fees to the court, although you may also need to factor in the cost of taking time off work to go to the court to file the documents, as well as notary public fees. You can find all the necessary forms through your local county clerk and often they will have a website with the forms available online for download. You may also be able to pair filing yourself with requesting a fee waiver from the court which will reduce the costs even more.
Chicago divorce lawyer Russell D. Knight advises that "many jurisdictions have a 'simplified divorce' process for people who have no assets, no children and aren't eligible for alimony." In these cases, you can obtain some forms from the county clerk and fill them out. You will either have to appear before a judge who grants the divorce or depending on the court you may be able to submit your paperwork and have this done without needing to show up. Knight says that since, "there's nothing to decide but the divorce itself, it's extremely simple."
Hire an Online Divorce Provider
There are online divorce paperwork services that will do all the paperwork for you for a fee that can be much less than an attorney if you find that doing it yourself is too hard or you can't take the time off of work to go to court. These services cost anywhere from $200 to $500 and fees can vary based on how quickly you need the divorce done as well as your state court's filing fees.
Work With a Paralegal or Legal Document Preparer
If you have trouble with the paperwork, or finding the time to go to court for the filings, another way you can save money is to hire a paralegal to help you. A trained paralegal, also known as a legal document preparer, can fill out the paperwork and do the filings for you and will charge much less than a licensed attorney. Often when you hire an attorney, it's the paralegal in the office who is actually doing the paperwork and the filings so they are well aware of all the ins and outs of handling court filings.
Use Credit to Pay for the Divorce
Divorce attorney Rajeh A. Saadeh suggests that couples who must work with an attorney due to "consequential issues to address like child custody or significant property division or child or spousal support" may pay for the legal fees with credit. "Attorneys usually take credit cards in addition to cash and check." He suggests that taking loans from friends, family or a bank, or trying to "raise the money online" are also options. Attorney Russell Knight also notes, however, that money borrowed to pay for a divorce "will be considered a marital debt which will eventually have to be split between the parties."
Ask for a Fee Waiver
Most family courts have a fee waiver system in place that will waive the fees for filing if you are truly indigent. Contact your local county clerk or Legal Aid service for information on your specific state's waiver options. Fee waivers are generally arranged by income level and you will need to be able to prove your income to the court. Keep in mind that because you will be filing a petition for a fee-waiver with the court, misrepresenting any of your financial information will be considered perjury.
Have Your Spouse Pay the Legal Bills
Knight advises that in cases where one spouse has limited or no money and the other has financial means, "every jurisdiction allows the cash poor litigant to ask the court to have their spouse pay their attorney's fees both during and after the divorce." One benefit of working with an attorney is that they can advise you on these legal options and work to ensure that your spouse covers the bills if you cannot afford them.
Getting a Divorce When You Have No Money
Divorce is one of the most stressful events in a person's life and this can be made far worse if you are unable to pay the costs. It's wise to do your research to find out what services are available in your community. Don't be afraid to contact your state bar association and your country clerk and ask questions. There are many options available to assist low-income individuals and while attorneys can be expensive, some are willing to do pro-bono or discounted work to help needy individuals with this painful life event.