The cost of a divorce
Death is the final stage of life,
something we all must face. But many people go through another kind
of death well before the coffin. It's divorce.
Divorce is death of a marital relationship
that is supposed to last a lifetime. For whatever reason -- broken
promises, infidelity or poor communication -- some marriages do
not work out.
"We did not enter into divorce
lightly. We sought counseling. We tried to overcome our differences,"
says Sue Reddy, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident whose divorce
was finalized December 1998. "I gave 100 percent to my marriage.
But we just could not get along."
Divorce is big business in the
United States. According to maritalstatus.com, a Web site geared
toward divorce and remarriage, divorce is a $28 billion-a-year industry
with an average cost of about $20,000.
If you're contemplating divorce,
there are short-term and long-term costs you should consider before
legally saying sayonara to your spouse. Short-term
costs mainly pertain to paying a lawyer, if you decide to hire one.
Long-term costs will include financial lifestyle issues.
Do-it-yourself divorce kits
There's no law that says you have
to hire an attorney. You can purchase a divorce kit if you feel
that you and your spouse can rationally come to an agreement on
who will get what. It's perfect for the couple who has nothing to
dispute and no children.
The kits generally include legal
forms that cover a variety of details such as personal property
and real estate, alimony and name changes. You file the finished
documents with the court and make an appearance before a judge to
explain your reasoning. The divorce becomes final when the judge
signs the documents.
The kits range from $25 to $70
and are valid in many states and Washington.
"Each state is different, and each
one has different legal forms. In getting a divorce kit, I would
use caution and get one that is particular to your state," says
Ginita Wall of San Diego, a Certified Public Accountant who specializes
Getting an attorney
When a divorce is contentious,
most couples hire an attorney to ensure that assets, child support,
alimony and other aspects are handled fairly and equitably.
If your divorce is uncontested,
meaning you and your spouse have worked out the terms, then it's
usually a matter of the lawyer making sure all issues have been
addressed. The legal fees are generally lower than a mediated or
Here's a general rule of thumb:
The more complicated and emotional the divorce, the more expensive
it will be, according to several attorneys nationwide. Reddy knows
all too well how a cantankerous divorce can drive up costs.
Most of the disagreements in her
case, she says, pertained to the custody of her 5-year-old son.
The divorce ended up costing her $25,000 in legal and court fees.
That money, she says, could have been used for more important things.
"That was my child's (college)
education fund," says Reddy. "But I still have 13 more years to
Most lawyers charge an hourly rate,
so expect to pay between $100 and $450 an hour, says Jan Warner
of Columbia, S.C., a divorce attorney for 30 years. Some lawyers
may charge as little as $75 an hour, according to maritalstatus.com,
with an up-front retainer of $500 to $10,000.
A retainer is the initial fee you
pay the lawyer for his or her services. The attorney's hourly rate
is then deducted from the retainer. Once the money is gone, you
pay additional money to keep the attorney on your case.
California divorce attorney Marilyn
S. Slifman says many couples simply cannot afford to hire a lawyer
and are forced to look for other ways to settle matters.
Some couples hire an attorney only
for certain services, such as reviewing a settlement agreement or
handling alimony particulars. The choice is yours.
There are other lawyer-related
fees to keep in mind. Slifman says couples should factor in the
cost of the initial court filing fee, process serving and subpoenas.
If the case goes to trial, then allow for daily court fees for witness
preparation, temporary orders and discovery.
Some lawyers charge for faxing,
photocopying, travel expenses and phone calls.
When you talk to your attorney
over the phone, even for a minute, it can cost you.
Let's say a lawyer charges $120
an hour. He may have a minimum billing unit of $30, which is the
fee for a 15-minute call. Even if you call to ask if he received
a copy of the apartment lease, that 30-second call will still cost
The true cost of a divorce encompasses
much more than just paying off the lawyer's fees and court bills.
Often, the bigger issue is dealing with a drastic reduction of income
since your spouse is no longer helping you financially. For some,
that can be a challenge.
Wall says it's difficult for many
to adjust to the economic realities of life after marriage. Without
the help of your ex-spouse, it's virtually impossible to maintain
your previous standard of living when your income is cut in half,
maybe more -- yet you don't lose half your expenses.
Prepare for this blow from the
"Separate the finances from the
emotions. Think about the divorce as a business deal and what is
best for you. Formulate goals and work toward them," says Wall.
Updated: June 8, 2001