“Divorce is expensive.”
I know that was certainly my impression, before I started practicing family law, though I can’t tell you now where I heard it first. I can’t tell you, even, what “expensive” means, exactly, because I think it’s probably safe to say that it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
How much it actually costs is so difficult to say because there are so many different variables that ultimately affect it. Is yours a case where you’ll reach an agreement? Is it one where you’ll fight to the death in the courtroom? Is custody an issue? Is spousal support an issue? Are custody and spousal support issues? Is there something else?
Agreement cases, generally, are much less expensive than contested cases where you go to court and duke it out in front of a judge. But that’s not to easy that it’s “cheap” or “expensive”, really, when it comes down to it.
It’s like asking whether a house is expensive, when there’s all sorts of different kinds of houses. There’s the charming little 2 bedroom cottage, and there’s Buckingham Palace, which has 775 rooms. (Yeah, I Googled it.) Heck, there’s even Studio apartments (but, there’s a studio apartment in Manhattan, and a studio apartment in Richmond, and a studio apartment in Baton Rouge, and I think they’re all probably pretty different, too.)
Divorces are as different as real estate, which is to say – there’s a huge range in terms of costs, so that question is a really hard one to answer. I think it’s probably pretty safe to say that most people would consider it fairly expensive, whether we’re talking about a $2,000 divorce or a $200,000 divorce. Right? And, anyway, expense is a matter of perspective, and the more expensive cases tend to be the ones where there are (expensive) disputed assets.
I think a better question to ask is “What do you stand to lose?” because that’s often what happens in cases where parties try to do it themselves, or minimize legal costs for the sake of minimizing legal costs. I mean, I get it – it’s expensive, and you want to be careful with your money. I’m not saying spend it recklessly on an attorney with no regard for the total overall costs, but just saving money for the sake of saving money is missing the point a little.
Take into account the cost of one missed item in your ultimate divorce, and estimate what that might mean to you. Let’s talk about a real life example. Just the other day, I met with a woman who used an attorney from Legal Aid to finalize her uncontested divorce. She was upset because the Final Decree didn’t mention her Survivor Benefit coverage, which basically insures her portion of the military retirement in the event that her husband predeceases her. So, obviously, not a big deal, if he doesn’t predecease her, but, if he does… Well, she’s SOL.
We see things like this all the time that happen in decrees and agreements that parties wrote themselves, that their husband’s attorneys wrote for them, or that they tried to save a few bucks by cutting some corners on (as I suspect happened in this Legal Aid case). I get it, it’s expensive – but it’ll cost her even more if her husband predeceases her than it would’ve cost her to make sure things were right in the first place.
In some cases, too, there’s also the question of the cost involved in fixing the problems created by the choices they made. It’s often a whole heck of a lot cheaper to just get things done right the first time – not to mention less stressful!
So, what do I recommend?
At least take the time to consult with an attorney. Make whatever decisions you need to make after that point, based on the advice you receive. But do so in full knowledge of the risks you’re taking and the costs that you could incur later on down the line.
In most cases, a consultation is only a couple hundred dollars, but that couple hundred dollars can save you from making mistakes that will cost you tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.
Ultimately, it’s up to you – but, coming from a person who has seen a lot of really, really sad cases, I don’t recommend it. The worst consultations I’ve ever had are the ones where I have to tell a woman that she’s forever waived something she would have otherwise been entitled to, or that we’ll have to spend money to go after something that should have already been resolved.
In many cases, the women had good incentives to do what they did, and I can understand the choices – but a consultation with an attorney would have helped them understand the potential consequences. A real life example? I’ve seen women give up things they’re entitled to – like a share of the retirement, or spousal support – in exchange for primary custody of the children. The risk there?
Custody is modifiable; the terms of the divorce are not. So, later, dad can petition for more time – but she’s forever waived the rights to that money!
Divorce can be scary, but it’s less so if you prepare, ask questions in advance, and make specific decisions designed to help protect both yourself and your children.
Not sure where to start? Well, I can help there, too. We have a free divorce book, and a low cost divorce seminar that can help you begin to grapple with all this information. When/if you’re ready, you can also call and schedule a consultation at 757-425-5200 as well.