Dear Penny: I Can’t Afford a Divorce Lawyer. Am I Stuck With My Wife Forever?

An unhappy married couple stand with their backs toward each other.
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Dear Penny,

I will have been married for 30 years in July 2022. My wife and I haven't been intimate in over 10 years. We're both 58 years of age. 

I haven't been in love with her for almost half our marriage. I've told her for the last 10 to 12 years that I want a divorce. But I can’t get a divorce attorney at this time because I've been trying to pay off hospital bills and other loans. 

I've been disabled since close to the end of 2016. My disability is more in my severe depression and my migraine headaches. Stress usually causes my migraine headaches.

When my dad died, my siblings and I received an inheritance of about $100,000. My inheritance money paid off our house. 

I'm afraid if I proceed with divorce that I'm going to be homeless. I had been hoping that my wife would leave instead of me leaving, but I'm almost 100% sure she's not going anywhere. 

My wife and I do not have any more children living with us. I honestly cannot stand to be around her anymore. When she speaks to me, her voice drives me nuts. I just don't want her to say anything to me. 

Penny, I don’t know if I'm asking you for advice or really what I'm doing. I cry almost every day because I'm so sad and alone. I honestly don't know what to do with myself? I don't want to be homeless, but I don't want to be sad and alone anymore. Can you give me advice on what I need to do, please?


Dear E.,

You’ve been thinking through all the possible scenarios for ending your marriage for over a decade. In the course of all this rumination, you’ve concluded that your only two choices are to become homeless or stay in a loveless marriage forever. I don’t think the reality is so black and white.

Divorce attorneys don’t work cheap, but many offer a free consultation. Use Google to find an attorney in your area who won’t charge you for the initial meeting. You could also search for a legal aid society near you to see if you’d qualify for reduced-fee services. Give yourself a one-week deadline to make an appointment.

An attorney isn’t going to be able to answer every question you have during an initial consultation. But you’ll at least walk away with some sense of how your property could be divided in a divorce. Since you have a paid-off home, you’d likely walk away with some home equity. That may require significant downsizing on your part, but I don’t think you’d be left homeless.

If you’re making more than the minimum payments on your debt, this is a rare time when it makes sense to stop. You need to preserve as much cash as possible should you proceed with the divorce so that you have money for attorney fees and getting a separate residence.

I can’t imagine that your wife is happy in this marriage either. Maybe she’s hoping you’ll be the one to pull the plug. But no matter how much you can’t stand each other, I promise that getting divorced will be cheaper if you can be cordial. You can often save money on divorce by working with a mediator instead of duking it out in court. This could be a good option for you and your wife since you don’t have minor children.

It’s essential that you take care of your mental health as well. I’d suggest seeking out a therapist, even if it’s only for a few sessions, since you’re contemplating a major life change. You can use the Open Path Psychotherapy Collective to find a therapist who provides services at a reduced rate — typically $30 to $60 per session for individuals — based on financial need. (Note that you’ll pay a one-time $59 membership fee.) You can also find low-cost therapy from someone who’s training to become a clinician using the Association of Psychological Training Clinics website.

Taking the first step of scheduling a consultation with an attorney may seem scary since you’ve been mulling a divorce for so long. Don’t try to figure out all the financial pieces to this decision right away. Take this one step at a time, knowing that even a small step is a step in the right direction.

Dear Penny

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Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].