How to Minimize the Cost of a Divorce
While it is not particularly easy to predict how much a divorce will cost, there are certain steps a party can take in an effort to minimize the expense. Agreement is the fastest way to save money. Even if a full agreement is impossible, just settling parts of the case still helps save money.
Predictable costsThere are several predictable expenses associated with getting divorced, including filing fees, parenting course costs, court reporter fees, and fees to divide retirement accounts. Most of these fees cannot usually be avoided unless a fee waiver is granted due because a party's income is below a certain level.
Filing fees are fees paid to the clerk of court by each party that participates in the case. Actual cost varies depending on county of filing (i.e., Cook County, Illinois = $388 for petitioning party, $251 for responding party).
Parenting course fees typically must be paid by each parent in a divorce involving at least one minor child. The cost for the parenting course varies depending on county of filing. The range of the parenting course expense is usually about $25 to $75 per party.
Court reporter’s fees are paid after the court approves the parties’ agreement at a prove-up hearing or following a trial. This cost is typically paid by the petitioner/plaintiff, and the cost varies depending on the length of the court hearing, A typical court reporter's fee for an uncontested prove-up should not exceed $100.
There are typically additional fees charged by financial institutions to divide retirement accounts pursuant to Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) entered in the divorce case. The fee is usually shared by both parties and is typically deducted from each party's awarded share of the divided retirement account.
Variable costsExpenses beyond the predictable costs of getting divorced can vary significantly from case to case. The more complex the issues are to be resolved, the more expensive the divorce is likely to be.
If a case involves a complex compensation structure for a party, a self-owned or primarily cash business, the presence of abuse, unique assets/liabilities, and/or a disabled party/child, the time required to reach an agreement will likely be greater or the case will go to trial.
While the concept may seem obvious, the more areas upon which divorcing spouses can find common ground and negotiate in good faith, the less money they will spend getting divorced. Agreements can be reached directly between the parties, via mediation, or with the assistance of attorneys - or as a combination of more than one of these approaches.
So what can be done to increase the likelihood of reaching an agreement while simultaneously minimizing the variable cost of the divorce process?
Do not play games with financial disclosures. Complete a Financial Affidavit in an accurate and timely fashion, being certain to identify all assets and liabilities. When an attorney identifies that an opposing party has not disclosed an asset, that attorney is likely going to assume that other hidden property exists. Not only may the party be subject to sanctions for the misrepresentation, he or she will likely have set off a much more expansive discovery quest that will undoubtedly increase attorneys' fees (for both sides).
Be prepared to promptly turn over financial records to support the Financial Affidavit, including but not limited to personal and corporate tax returns, bank and other financial account statements, retirement account statements, credit card statements, and the like. Reluctance to produce documents raises suspicions and could lead to otherwise unnecessary subpoenas and other discovery requests, which increase costs. Parties should also be ready to supplement account statements periodically without having to be frequently reminded or prodded.
Opposing parties are entitled to financial records, and courts tend to side with requiring parties to disclose more than less in the discovery process. If a document could be relevant to the case, then a judge will likely require that it be produced. Fighting about the turnover of relevant records can be costly - both in terms of dollars and cents as well as credibility.
Emotional costsAside from financial impact, divorcing parties can take steps to lower the emotional cost of the experience.
In almost all divorces involving children, the fact that the parents' legal union is dissolved does not actually end their relationship. Divorced parents will likely need to work together to make decisions impacting the child(ren) for years to come. They will be invited to and attend events for their child(ren) where the ex-spouse will also be present, and an inability to cooperate can have devastating long-lasting effects on the kids.
Consider the needs of everyone involved (i.e., the child(ren), the other party, and yourself), and when children are impacted, place the child(ren)’s interests first. Be open to flexible solutions when possible.
Always be mindful of the impact that an unwillingness to agree may have on the children, and consider whether "winning" a child-related dispute will produce the best overall result for the child.