If you and your spouse have agreed to go in different directions, you may wonder if it’s possible to do it quickly and inexpensively. Tabloids blare headlines about celebrity separations and millionaire divorce attorneys, while pop culture jokes about the high cost of divorce. If you’re looking for the cheapest way to end a marriage, don’t despair — there are cheap divorce options, and we’ll help you find them.
1. Do It Yourself
The process for getting a divorce is very different across the country. In some places, family court websites make it very easy to download free online divorce resources containing instructions, links, forms, and fee schedules. Most forms can be filed online, judges conduct hearings over the telephone or by videoconference, and fees can be paid by credit card or bank transfer.
You and your spouse may be able to take advantage of an option like a ‘joint simplified’ divorce, which expedites the process for qualified spouses seeking an “uncontested” divorce. If you can’t afford the filing fees, you can file a request to have them waived.
You may assume that doing it yourself is the cheapest way to get a divorce, but this isn’t always the case. If you live in a place that offers helpful options for making divorce cheap, easy, and fast, it certainly can be.
However, many places make the process itself complicated and confusing. You may have to attend multiple in-person or online court hearings and spend many hours waiting in line to file paperwork at the court clerk’s office. Doing all this yourself can mean taking significant time off work; since small children are usually not permitted in court, it can also cause considerable childcare issues.
For spouses that own property together, have minor children, share a business, or have other financial complications, it’s generally best to engage a legal professional. Can you get a cheap divorce if you must pay attorney’s fees?
2. Explore Alternative Legal Options
In many areas, legal aid services provide legal assistance to lower-income residents. Their volunteer and staff attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants can help you file for divorce, respond to a divorce petition, and negotiate child custody issues. The cost is usually determined by a sliding scale, depending on your income, but is often far less than the typical cost of an attorney in your area.
If you don’t qualify or can’t use legal aid, investigate whether there are other local non-profit programs that offer low-cost or free family law clinics. Some law schools and paralegal programs offer clinics or programs that let supervised legal students gain experience working on family law cases. Your local court system or attorney bar association may also provide you with a list of reputable, cheap divorce lawyers representing clients at no charge (“pro bono”) or reduced rates.
3. Hire a Cheaper Divorce Lawyer
Although the courts set the fees for filing divorce paperwork, rates for divorce attorneys vary significantly. Don’t be afraid to shop around! If you have a complicated situation, a top-tier divorce attorney may actually save you money by negotiating a better financial outcome. On the other hand, if you have relatively few issues, you may not need this kind of firepower.
You can often get a better deal if you compare rates, so ask for a firm’s hourly rate or fee schedule up front. Some attorneys handle simple, uncontested divorces for a flat rate that includes court fees. You may even be able to negotiate a lower hourly rate or flat fee, especially with a sole practitioner or smaller firm.
4. Use an Online Service
There are great options online that can help you get a cheap divorce. Online services can help you figure out what court to file in, which forms to fill out, and how to get started. They can provide a big-picture overview of the process and the procedures required to finalize your divorce.
Many online divorce services also refer users to legal professionals who are available to answer questions or review documents at reasonable rates. This feature allows you to save money by doing a lot of the work yourself while providing some reassurance you are doing things correctly. These options are usually a fraction of the cost of a full-service divorce attorney.
5. Think Outside the Box
Many factors can make divorce a lengthy, expensive process, even if both spouses agree on all the issues involved. Some states impose high fees and long waiting periods, increasing the costs exponentially. These can delay selling or buying property, accepting new employment, or remarrying. If you find yourself in such a position, you may want to think creatively about your options.
Are you able to file for divorce in a court with fewer restrictions or lower filing costs? This may be possible if your spouse now lives in a different state or is in the military. Some states allow you to file for divorce after just a few weeks’ residency. You may even consider relocating; this could allow you to get a fresh start as well as a cheap divorce.
Finally, cooperating with your spouse is one of the most significant factors in reducing the cost of your divorce proceedings. Although the process is rarely easy, maintaining patience, respect, and civility towards each other will help you get things filed and finalized as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Need Legal Advice for Your Divorce?
If you’re unsure which strategy you should pursue to get a cheap divorce, you might consider consulting with a legal professional. An attorney can review your unique situation and help you understand your options.