There’s so much you can do together, and even lots of things you can do alone, to save time and money in your divorce. Most everything on this page revolves around the core principle of DivorceInfo, the importance of your staying in control of your divorce. That means you don’t turn your divorce over to your spouse, or to your lawyer, or to the judge, or to anyone else. It’s your divorce. It’s you who’s going to have to live with the consequences. As a result, you’re the one who needs to decide how to get through your divorce. You can choose how you’re going to get through this, and what sort of life you’re going to lead when you’re finished.
- Do You Need a Lawyer?
- Consider Unbundling
- Think about Uncontested Divorce
- Think about Mediation
- In Adversarial Divorce . . .
- Think Strategically
There’s no legal requirement that you use a lawyer to get divorced. You may not need a lawyer at all. You may just be able to order the forms and do it yourself. That’s by far the cheapest way to divorce.
More and more states are lowering the procedural barriers to help people who want to file their own simple uncontested divorce. Arizona, for example, has set up a self-service center designed to allow couples to file their own divorce.
If you want to work with a specific lawyer, he or she might be able to work with you as your coach to answer your occasional questions.
There’s a separate page called Do I Need a Lawyer?, if you want to find out more.
You don’t have to choose between losing control and going it alone. You can apply a concept called “unbundling” that keeps you in control, yet gets you access to the resources you need when you need them. There’s a separate page all about unbundling.
Even if you use a lawyer, you can still save time and money. If you and your spouse can agree on the major issues of your divorce, you may be able to use an uncontested divorce. The main advantage of uncontested divorce is that it’s simple, which means it’s usually quicker and less expensive than other ways to divorce.
For most lawyers, uncontested divorce is primarily reserved for divorces involving simple property holdings, no house, no joint debts to speak of, and no unusual needs involving children. I’ve pushed the envelope. I encourage the use of uncontested divorce in many cases involving complex estates, where other lawyers might see a big fee and turn it into an adversarial contest.
By definition, an uncontested divorce involves having one of the spouses represented by a lawyer and having the other spouse not to be represented. It presents a power imbalance that takes some attention to deal with. I have a great deal of interest in uncontested divorce, so there’s a separate page devoted to it.
Even if uncontested divorce isn’t right for you, however, there’s still plenty that you and your spouse can do to save time and money in divorce. Most of it comes back to that first principle we talked about – the need to keep control of the divorce.
In mediation, both spouses meet with an impartial third party, the mediator, who guides both spouses together through the process of resolving the issues that must be decided so the couple can complete their divorce. Couples can mediate even if their level of conflict is so high they cannot even speak to each other without fighting. Professional divorce mediators are trained to expedite and reframe issues to keep both spouses focused on the task of resolving their divorce.
Mediation is difficult if there’s a pattern of domestic violence that allows one of the spouses to intimidate the other. Mediation won’t work well at all until both spouses have fully disclosed all marital assets. There are several ways of bringing about this disclosure, from voluntarily sharing information, to use of a financial preparation kit like DivorceSavvySavesMoney, to the Discovery Money Pit.
Research shows that couples who have mediated their divorce spend less time and less money, are more satisfied with the process when they finish, and are less likely to return to court later than couples who go through an adversarial divorce.
Adversarial divorce is nobody’s favorite way to resolve disputes. But sometimes you’re stuck with it. Even in adversarial divorce, there’s a great deal you can do to save time and money:
Make Your Spouse Pay.
Often a spouse who has limited assets and income may be able to force his or her spouse to pay his or her costs for legal counsel, for necessary experts, and for other costs of preparing the case for trial. Your lawyer can advise you about the likelihood that you could get your spouse to pay some or all of your costs of the divorce.
At first glance, it must seem strange to think you could save money by spending $70 or $80 per hour on a counselor. But it does make sense. The technical issues in divorce are usually pretty simple. What makes the process so time-consuming – and expensive – is the emotional intensity of the parties.
To negotiate effectively, you need to draw a line in your mind. On one side of that line is the white-hot intensity of emotions – feelings of betrayal, abandonment, and resentment sometimes bordering on hatred – directed at your spouse and perhaps at third parties. On the other side of that line is the straightforward awareness of the concessions you need (money, time with the children, living arrangements, etc.) to get on with your life after divorce. Professional counselors are trained and equipped to help you understand the feelings you are having. This can help you keep your emotions under control, think strategically, and keep a cool head for the tough negotiations you must conduct with your spouse.
But beware. If you and your spouse are likely to disagree about who will spend what time with the children, you should know that a counselor may be forced to tell a court what you said in counseling sessions. If you think you may be arguing about custody, visit with your attorney before beginning counseling.
Use Lawyer Time Efficiently.
Lawyers charge high hourly rates. Obviously you want to minimize the time they spend on your case. Basically this boils down to asking yourself constantly, “Is there anything my lawyer is doing that I or someone else could be doing?” This may mean, for example, that you need to resist the urge to call your lawyer to tell him or her the latest outrage you’ve suffered at the hands of your spouse. Call a friend or counselor instead, then distill the relevant facts down to a one-page memo that your lawyer can read and file for reference.
If information needs to be gathered, make sure you’re doing as much of the work as possible. When your lawyer asks you for information, take an extra minute to find out how he or she plans to use it. This will enable you to gather the information more effectively, organize it to save the lawyer time, and perhaps even prepare a written summary of it for the lawyer’s use. For a look at how the lawyer/client relationship works in adversarial divorce, check out the Open Letter From Your Divorce Lawyer.
It’s so easy in divorce to get caught up in the struggle to prevail over your spouse. Any concession feels like defeat. If you focus sharply and consistently on the goals that are key to you, however, you can afford to make concessions in other areas.
Ask yourself three questions constantly as you negotiate: (1) How much is this issue worth to me in money terms? (2) How likely is it that I will win? (3) How much is it costing me to argue about it? If you can’t answer all three questions in a way that makes it clear you should continue the struggle, it’s time to counsel with your lawyer about a graceful concession.
This issue of thinking strategically is important, so important that I’ve devoted a separate page to it.
The one issue that doesn’t lend itself to this kind of reflection, of course, is the incendiary issue of child custody. Even here, however, there’s great value in taking a step back to ask whether pursuing a custody fight is something you’re doing for your children, or for your own ego. Or worse yet, because someone else in your family is pressuring you to. Make sure you check out the information on getting your kids through this. Custody fights are hell on kids. Make sure there’s a really good reason to put them through it.