Breaking Up Doesn’t Have to Leave You Broke — Here’s How to Save on Divorce

How much does a divorce cost
Getting a divorce can get expensive. Since attorneys often bill clients in six-minute increments, experts recommend preparing a list of questions. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

About 40 to 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association.

I’ve never been married, but I watched my parents get divorced when I was barely a teenager. The one thing I noticed most about the process? It’s expensive.

Elise Pettus, founder of UNtied, an online divorce resource for women, said there’s no set number for how much a divorce costs, but $13,000 is the rough average in the United States. And that’s without children involved.

Pettus went through the divorce process in 2010. After realizing there was no single space that offered a place for women facing divorce to connect and find professional resources, she founded UNtied in 2013.

So what makes divorce so costly?

After speaking with experts, it was clear: The small fees you may not initially account for are what end up killing your bank account during a divorce.

Let’s take a deeper look.

The Divorce Process is More Complicated Than You Think

When you think of divorce, you might imagine sitting in a room with your soon-to-be ex and an attorney. In a perfect world, you would both agree on how to split things and who sees the kids when, then you’d sign a paper to finalize your split.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Depending on how heated your case gets, multiple expenses can pop up.

The Fees That Start to Add Up

Hiring an attorney or mediator is only one costly part of the divorce process.

Every single aspect of your divorce gets billed: every phone call, every car ride to the courthouse and more. You might not initially think of paying for each of these expenses individually when you hire an attorney, but your final bill will include these items. Prices will vary, depending upon your lawyer.

Here are some expenses that quickly increase the cost of divorce:

Legal Fees

  • Attorney’s time: One of the biggest costs of any legal case is an attorney’s time. Some charge by the minute, others by the hour — and they charge you until your case is complete. According to Lawyers.com, hourly attorney fees can range from $100 to $400, depending upon location, complexity of the case, experience and more.
  • Appraisers: You will likely need to hire an appraiser to assess the value of your assets, including real estate, antiques, art, collectibles, etc. Pettus says an appraisal can cost several thousand dollars.
  • Attorney travel time: Every time your attorney travels to and from court to discuss your case, they will bill you for it.
  • Changing your will: According to LegalZoom, hiring an attorney to write a new will can cost $100 to $150. Prices increase with more complicated wills.
  • Forensic accountant: If your divorce turns into a heated battle, you might need to hire a forensic accountant to find any assets or funds your soon-to-be ex spouse may have hidden. Considering this is a specialized service, you can expect to shell out hundreds of dollars per hour to hire one.

Expenses You May Incur if You Have Children

  • Guardian ad litem fees: A guardian ad litem is a court-appointed individual who seeks out the children’s best interests, such as living situation, contact with parents, etc. Pettus says a guardian ad litem can cost between $150 and $250 an hour.
  • Custody assessment This assessment usually takes place if you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse can’t come to terms with the custody situation. According to DivorceNet, a mental health professional usually carries out a custody assessment to determine co-parenting responsibilities. This process is similar to a guardian ad litem assessment.

DivorceNet reports: “A county custody evaluation will probably cost between $1,000 and $2,500, and you could pay $10,000 or more for a private evaluation.”

  • Parenting classes: Some states require parents to take parenting classes before divorcing. While these classes focus on teaching the impacts of divorce on children, they also familiarize parents with the divorce process. Sometimes, you can take these classes online for as little as $20.

Saving Money on a Divorce: Is it Possible?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the thought of divorce costs, there are a few strategies you can consider to reduce them.

Since there’s no guarantee these money-saving tips will be right for your situation, it’s important to consult with a legal professional to discuss these options.

Here are a few ways you could potentially save money during the divorce process:

Consider Litigation Alternatives

There are multiple ways to get divorced, including litigation, mediation and collaborative law.

Bill Yanger, an attorney in Tampa, Florida, describes the differences between these options.

Litigation is the process of filing a lawsuit against another party. When you litigate a divorce, you’re seeking a judgment from the court based on law and facts.

Mediation, according to Yanger, is “a situation where the parties come together and sit down to review the facts and try to come to an agreement.” A third-party mediator helps spouses negotiate an agreement, and you don’t need an attorney, according to DivorceNet. Mediation is usually faster and more cost-effective than litigation.

Collaborative divorce is a process in which both parties agree to work together to negotiate an acceptable arrangement — it’s similar to mediation, but each spouse is represented by collaborative attorneys.

In a collaborative divorce, both parties put the best interest of themselves and their children first — all while using resources responsibly. Yanger says that collaborative law is “probably the most economic” way to get a divorce.

No matter what route you take, you can’t get a divorce without a judge signing off on it.

Don’t forget that you’ll eventually go before a judge, who will review your agreements before approving them. Court costs will vary depending on your state and the complexity of the case.

Pay Attention to the Time You Spend on the Phone With Your Attorney

Every interaction with your attorney costs money, including phone calls. According to Pettus, attorneys often bill time in six-minute increments.

To avoid racking up a big bill for phone communication, she suggests calling with a list of questions instead of contacting your attorney every time you think of a question.

She also warns that you should avoid emotional venting during phone conversations because these eat away at time with your attorney.

“Try to keep in mind that [a divorce] is a business transaction,” she said. “This can sometimes help people remember to be efficient with their attorneys.”

Prepare Your Documents Ahead of Time

Courts closely analyze many documents, such as bank statements, in a divorce to determine separation of assets and alimony.

Pettus recommends having all of these documents on hand to keep charges to a minimum.

She says that figuring out on your own what you spend every day is key to saving money during the divorce process. If you wait for your lawyer to calculate your spending with you, you’ll pay big time.

Consider Unbundling

The process of unbundling is when you and your soon-to-be ex spouse negotiate certain areas on your own, without an attorney present.

Unbundling, according to Pettus, is a fairly new practice in most states — but it can be one of the most efficient strategies you use in your divorce.

Pettus says this can help cut costs but warns you should only use it in situations where there are no major disagreements.

Know That There are No Winners

If you want to avoid a long, dragged-out divorce, Pettus offers this advice:

Go in with the mindset that you don’t have to “win” every single point.

“If you approach the whole process with one or two priorities and understand that nobody comes out of a divorce agreement as the winner, you’re likely to get through it much more quickly and much more affordably,” she said.

Divorces are about compromises — if you can accept that, you can save money in the long run.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

Did this article help put money in your pocket?