One thing that keeps people in toxic marriages far longer than they should be is concern about the cost of a divorce.
To be sure, divorce is usually not cheap. Across the U.S., the average cost of getting a divorce – for attorney fees, court costs, tax advisers and appraisals — runs around $12,900, according to legal website Nolo. For an uncontested divorce, where there are no disagreements, the total is closer to $4,100. (Some sources put those figures higher.)
Interested in learning more? See how you can DIY your divorce with Divorce.com.
But it is possible to do it for less. When divorces are amicable, spouses usually have the option of handling the matter themselves and submitting all paperwork directly to the courts without using an attorney. If you DIY divorce, your total expense may only be the filing fees, which are around $200 to $500 in most states.
Even in New York, a notoriously expensive state, you can get out of an unhappy marriage for about $350 – if you and your soon-to-be ex agree about everything. That was the case for myself and my ex-husband. When our relationship soured in 2018, we had been married only a few years. We had no kids, no real estate, and our only joint assets were in a brokerage account.
My do-it-yourself divorce was ‘easy-peasy’
My ex, an experienced financial analyst, was highly detail-oriented, fair-minded, and transparent. He was the type of person who actually liked doing taxes and creating budget spreadsheets. He filed the paperwork in January 2019 and our divorce was final in April 2019. Easy-peasy.
In similar situations, divorce really can be that cheap and uncomplicated. Divorce lawyers, who usually charge around $250 to $450 an hour for their services, might even recommend going it alone as the best course of action when the ex-spouses get along and the breakup is clear-cut. Here some general advice attorneys offered for couples considering DIY divorce, and when they night be better off hiring a mediator or attorney instead:
‘Uncontested’ means you and your ex must agree
For people planning the DIY divorce route, the biggest hurdle upfront is making sure “they are on the same page with who is getting what,” Scott Ellerin, a Jacksonville, Florida-based divorce attorney, said. A good first step is having a serious conversation to make sure you both want a divorce, and that there is a clear understanding on how any property or other assets will be divided.
“It only makes any sense if it’s uncontested and you guys can agree on everything,” Anne Moody Johnson, a family law and divorce attorney in Marshall, Mo. said.
But if there is bitterness, resentment, poor communication, or other signs you and your soon-to-be ex are going to lock horns over something, it’s better to go ahead and hire a lawyer — especially if the dispute is likely to end up in litigation. No matter how smart you are, you’re going to be at a disadvantage if you represent yourself in a contentious court battle. “I’ve seen people do it, some narcissists who think they can do it on their own,” New York-based divorce lawyer Beatrice Leong said. The situation usually doesn’t end well for them, she added.
Simple assets and no debt are keys to DIY divorce
Divorce lawyers THE EXIT spoke to said they would advise couples to consider DIY if their finances are exceedingly simple, with little-to-no debt. So, if you and your spouse own a home or other real estate, with a mortgage, you might be better off hiring an attorney, or at the very least a mediator. The same goes if there is an expectation of alimony, or “maintenance” payments from ex-spouse to another.
DIY can work well “when there is very little to divide or everyone is generally agreeable to maintaining all their separate assets and liabilities,” said Ellerin, who is with firm Kenny Leigh & Associates. “The shorter the marriage, and the smaller the ‘estate,’ the easier it can be.”
When I got divorced, my ex-husband and I had healthy savings – we both had well-paying jobs and we lived below our means. But the accounting was simple, and like I said, my ex was exceptionally organized. So dividing things up was fairly painless.
Do DIY only if you’re good at paperwork
One problem do-it-yourselfers can face, even if their marital estates are straight-forward and everyone gets along, is making paperwork errors. While the process is broadly the same everywhere – you gather relevant documentation, fill out an application and other forms (usually available on court websites), and adhere to whatever deadlines or other requirements are imposed – every jurisdiction has its own way of doing things.
You’ll want to make sure you dot every “I” and cross every “T.” If not, your petition could be rejected by the court, or the approval be delayed while you fix mistakes. Worse, you could also leave yourself open for your ex-spouse to come back and reopen the case later when you two might not be so friendly with each other. “You don’t want your spouse coming back and saying, ‘wait a minute I didn’t know I was entitled to the house,’” Leong said.
DIY may not be best if you have children
Another point that divorce lawyers stressed is that DIY is probably not a good option if you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse have children together who are under 21 years old. Custody and child support issues are legally complicated and can easily become messy battlegrounds, even if everything else is simple.
Family law is also “very discretionary” and judges often have their “own little fiefdoms,” making it helpful to have a legal advisor who knows the territory, Johnson said. She added that has sometimes seen judges dole out nonsensical child custody rulings.
In general, DIY divorces are a solid choice if “you’re savvy, educated, and you have a very simple, short marriage, and you’re renting, and have two cents to your name, and have no children,” Leong said.
The Exit has an affiliate relationship with Divorce.com and earns a commission when users purchase their services.
The Exit is not responsible for third-party’s privacy policies what we link to.