Managing Unexpected Expenses in Divorce

Gavel and Money - Expenses in Divorce - Law Office of Shelly Ingram

You know that divorce is expensive: you've seen it on TV and magazines, heard about it from family and friends who have gone through the process. Somehow, although you know it to be true, the full reality of your expenses in divorce doesn't hit you until you're in the middle of it, looking at your deflated bank balance and wondering how much more is to come.

Some divorce expenses are avoidable; others are not. You may be surprised at simple actions that you can take to reduce the cost of your divorce, including things like attorney fees that you might not have imagined you have control over. Even when it's not possible to reduce your costs, being prepared for them can reduce your stress and give you the opportunity to budget so that you don't feel quite so much of a financial squeeze.

Divorce Expenses You Might Not Expect

Of course, you expect to pay attorney fees—more about those later. But there are other legal costs associated with divorce as well. If you are the one to file for divorce, you'll be paying a filing fee of $165 dollars if you're not represented by counsel, and $185 if you are. If you need to use a professional process server to serve your spouse with divorce papers, that might cost anywhere between $50 and $200 (or more if service is very complicated) but you can usually expect to pay around $50-$75. You cannot serve your spouse with divorce papers yourself, but there are lower-cost ways to achieve service, such as certified mail, or having your spouse simply agree to accept the papers and officially acknowledge that he or she received them.

In addition, if you need to file a motion during the divorce to ask the judge in your case to take an action, there is sometimes a $31 motion filing fee.

Some legal expenses seem costly, but can save you money down the road. One example is mediation. If you and your spouse decide to mediate your divorce using a private mediator, you will have to pay a fee, typically hourly, for their services. Most divorce mediators are also family law attorneys, and their mediation fees are comparable to legal fees. Especially if you are also using a lawyer to help you prepare for mediation, bills can mount quickly.

However, if you and your spouse are successful in mediating a settlement for your divorce, that means you can avoid the significant expense of discovery, motions, trial preparation, and trial itself. Legal fees to take a divorce to trial are often in the tens of thousands of dollars. Avoiding that expense by sharing the costs of a successful mediation can result in a good return on investment! This is not to mention the non-financial benefits of having your divorce resolved sooner, on your own terms, and likely, more amicably.

Another often-unexpected divorce expense is the cost of experts to provide valuations for marital assets. You may not need the services of an expert to value assets like a home, car, or bank accounts, but for complex assets like a family business or professional practice, the use of an expert is highly recommended. Experts, especially those with strong credentials, can be costly, but they are usually worth it.

If your spouse has a professional practice that is subject to division in a divorce, and they claim it is worth $500,000, you can simply choose to accept their valuation and your share of a property settlement based on that amount. But if you retain a valuation expert who determines the business is worth twice what your spouse claims, the increased amount of your settlement will more than make up for the cost of the expert's fee.

Divorce may also lead to surprise expenses that are not directly connected to your legal matter. You may have increased living expenses, whether or not you move out of the marital home, simply because you are no longer sharing those costs with another adult. You may have increased child care expenses because your spouse is no longer in the home to care for the kids if you must work late or travel. When planning your budget, don't forget to take these increased costs into account.

A Surprising Resource for Keeping Costs Down: Your Lawyer

Yes, lawyers are one of the biggest expenses in a divorce, but your attorney can also help you keep your bills down. In your initial consultation with your attorney, ask her: "What can I do to help manage my legal costs?" Most attorneys are pleased to hear this question. They must charge for their services, but they don't want to charge their clients unnecessarily, and most attorneys welcome the opportunity to partner with clients to work in a cost-effective way.

Your attorney might suggest, for instance, e-mailing her instead of calling. A fifteen minute phone call may cost you a hundred dollars, or thousands of dollars over the course of your divorce. Your attorney may charge much less for dashing off a quick e-mail response, and as a bonus, you will have written documentation of her advice. Your attorney may also advise you about what financial documents you should gather early on, potentially saving thousands on attorney fees in later discovery and motions to compel your spouse to produce those very documents.

Your attorney may also give you some "tough love" if you are letting your emotions drive up the cost of your divorce. Sometimes, you need to be gently reminded that the cost of fighting over some material things is often greater than the value of the things themselves.

Divorce is a legal matter, but also a financial and emotional matter. It is important that you have a good relationship with your attorney and see your attorney as a legal resource. Your attorney should help you understand the law and as a practical matter, your lawyer should also help you manage cost and plan for unexpected expenses.

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