The average divorce costs each divorcee around $15,000. This can be a staggering expense for couples with little in the way of assets or who are already on the rocks financially.
But staying in a failing marriage comes with its own costs and delaying a divorce rarely makes it any more affordable.
This can leave couples who can’t afford a divorce feeling trapped between a rock and a hard place. Fortunately, there are ways out of this conundrum.
Keep reading now to learn the best ways to get a divorce when you can’t afford one:
Try an Alternative Form of Divorce
Traditional divorce proceedings are expensive but most would-be divorcees don’t realize that the reason they cost so much is that they:
- Require a high number of billable hours by the lawyers involved
- Involve repeated filings and appearances in court
- Often involve hiring third-party specialists such as divorce financial analysts
- Often drag on due to a refusal by one or both parties to agree or compromise on key points
The more time and professional intervention a couple needs, the more their costs increase. But not every couple needs to take this route.
Couples who are in agreement on their need for a divorce can substantially reduce their costs by choosing an alternative to litigation.
Popular and less expensive options include:
- Mediated divorces
- Collaborative divorces
- Summary divorce
None of these options are completely without cost and not all options will be suitable for all couples.
For many couples, however, choosing a non-litigated path to separation can reduce costs enough to put divorce squarely within reach.
Limit Your Use of Lawyers
In both litigated and non-litigated divorces, couples can minimize their costs by limiting the amount of lawyer involvement in the process. There are numerous ways to do this:
- Couples can research their state laws on their own to get an understanding of the divorce process and requirements.
- They can use free online forms and templates to draw up paperwork themselves.
- Couples can negotiate between themselves on how to divide assets and property.
- They can draw up their own agreements laying out or waiving their rights to common sticking points like alimony and child support.
When couples handle the negotiations themselves, they avoid the expensive back-and-forth between opposing lawyers, unnecessary court filings, and preventable in-court time.
This makes the cost of uncontested divorce much lower than the costs of a contested divorce.
Couples who have done most of the work themselves may also be able to take advantage of special pricing packages.
For example, while lawyers charge by the hour in a litigated divorce, many offer flat-fee packages to review preliminary divorce documents before they are submitted to the court. This can make both budgeting for and affording a divorce much more feasible.
Couples tend to have the most luck using limited lawyer approaches when they:
- Have no children.
- Have few assets.
- Are parting amicably.
- Are equally motivated to make the divorce happen.
- Are largely in agreement about the division of property between them.
Unfortunately, this method is not applicable in situations where a divorce is highly contested.
Seek Free Help
Not all splits are amicable. Spouses trapped in unsafe or unhealthy marriages may not be in a position to negotiate terms with their partners.
Sometimes, one half of a couple refuses to agree to divorce at all.
In these cases, litigation is unavoidable. When you desperately need a divorce but your spouse isn’t cooperating and you simply can’t afford a divorce attorney your options are regrettably limited.
You do, however, have a few:
- Look for a lawyer who will take your case pro bono.
- Appeal for help to a legal aid society or other not-for-profit organization.
- Inquire about payment plans.
Some lawyers accept a limited number of pro bono cases each year. If you can demonstrate that you are a high-need or at-risk client unable to pay for the services you need, you may qualify for this kind of assistance.
Inquire at your local courthouse or with your bar association for information on how to find lawyers in your area who might be willing to take your case for free.
Legal aid societies and other not-for-profit organizations may also maintain funds and programs to assist at-risk families in need of a divorce.
These services are most likely to be available to spouses who can’t afford to divorce a husband or wife but who are actively suffering domestic violence or other abuse situations.
Counselors, doctors, and other therapeutic professionals may also have contacts and be able to guide would-be divorcees to help.
Finally, talk to prospective lawyers about payment plans. Many lawyers understand that clients in the middle of stressful life situations do not have cash on hand. They may be willing to work with you to set up a plan that allows you to pay them in small amounts over time.
While it can be unappealing to start your new post-divorce life with this kind of bill hanging over your head, it can make divorce possible when other options fail.
When You Can’t Afford Divorce, It’s Time to Rethink Where You Stand
If you think you want to divorce but can’t afford it, it may be time to take a step back. It is not uncommon for couples considering divorce to get bogged down by their frustrations, expectations, and emotions.
In many cases, it is the inability to think logically and practically about the logistics of divorce that drive couples into expensive litigated proceedings.
Pride, frustration, and overwhelm can also prevent couples from taking the steps necessary to explore potential options open to them, such as help from a legal aid society.
Consider asking a trusted friend or support worker, such as a doctor, counselor, or a leader in your faith community for help.
They may be able to assist you in working through your thoughts and feelings and help you find resources you had not previously considered.
Relationships can be challenging, especially for couples who can’t afford divorce even though they want to.
Explore our other great articles on relationships now to learn more about how to build strong relationships, handle relationship challenges, and end relationships positively.