For someone considering divorce, the first decision to consider may be the process itself. If you’ve never done it before, of course you have no idea how it works.
Assuming you’ve decided as a couple you no longer want to be married, you’ll need to decide (and come to an agreement with your spouse) on how to separate yourselves financially and what arrangements need to be made for your family.
Once this is negotiated, you’ll still need to make it official. An action for divorce must be filed with the court system, and finalized by a judge. Sometimes this is done first (such as when financial support must be ordered by the Court), but it is often done last, after the couple has agreed on the terms of their divorce and just needs to make it “legal”.
Deciding “how to separate your lives financially” can be a very simple or very complicated process, and there are several different ways to approach it:
1. Do it Yourself
I’ve heard this called the “Kitchen Table Divorce” or the “Starbucks Divorce”. If both parties agree that they want to divorce, there may not be much to negotiate.
- With no kids, there is no need to discuss child support or parenting arrangements.
- With similar incomes, there is no need to discuss spousal support or maintenance.
- With no assets (or debts), there is no need to discuss property settlement.
You get the idea. I’ve seen this in a case where the couple was married less than two years.
Cost: Could be less than $1000 to figure out the forms and pay an attorney to file them.
A neutral third party can help to negotiate the terms for the separation without going to court. The mediator (who is sometimes an attorney, but may not be) will help identify the issues, and come to an agreement. They then draft the terms of the separation agreement, or the agreement itself. Generally, each party then has their own “consulting” attorney review the agreement to ensure that their client is being treated fairly. Sometimes you may consult a child specialist or financial professional as well.
We have worked as both a financial neutral, and as a consultant for one party, in this type of case.
On a most basic level, this process requires that the couple is able to speak to each other, and have enough confidence to voice their needs. Mediation is not appropriate for everyone. However, this process is relatively fast and inexpensive.
Interestingly, since the start of the pandemic, more mediation sessions are happening via Zoom or similar. Although virtual communication can be a challenge, I believe that this option may be much more comfortable (and certainly easier to schedule) for many.
You can learn more about the mediation process and find local mediators at Mediate.com.
Cost: Will vary quite a bit depending on the complexity of the agreement, mediation costs in your area, and number of sessions, but $4,000 – $8,000 should be a realistic range.
3. Collaborative Divorce
This process utilizes a team approach. A full team could include:
- Attorneys for each party
- Mental health professional
- Child specialist
- Divorce coach
- Financial professional
That sounds like a lot of expensive people, but not all are necessary for every case and not all are involved in every meeting. I have worked as the financial professional in this type of case.
This process is not for everyone, but does provide more support for each party. The team may utilize a “Roadmap” which focuses them on getting your case to a negotiated agreement which (hopefully) works for all parties. At a stressful time, this support can keep the process from unraveling or “getting ugly”.
You can learn more about the collaborative process and find professionals in your area at the International Association of Collaborative Professionals.
Cost: Again, there is a broad range, but $15– 25,000 may be realistic.
4. Divorce Litigation
This is what I think many people imagine the divorce process to be: all communication goes through the attorneys, and fighting over money and kids drags on for years.
For some, cutting off direct communication and having an attorney at your side is the best choice. However, it is also disruptive, hard on the family, and can be extremely expensive.
You can find a local attorney through the attorney directory at Avvo or the Bar Association in your area.
Cost: I’ve seen this range from $20,000 – $100,000.
Which Path Should You Take?
To make your decision, you’ll need to consider your ability to communicate with your spouse and (both of) your goals in the process. But cost should also be a consideration, as any money spent on the divorce means less for your family.
I believe that any couple with children should at least consider mediation or collaborative divorce. In my experience, most couples want their divorce to be as painless as possible for the kids, no matter how angry they are with each other. They will need to communicate as parents down the road, so they may as well communicate regarding the divorce.
Articles in this series:
- How to Get Divorced: Understanding the Process
- What Property is Divided in Divorce?
- What Happens to Debt in Divorce?
- Budgeting & Divorce
- Retirement & Divorce
- Real Estate & Divorce
- Executive Benefits & Divorce
- How is Child Support Calculated?
- How is Alimony Calculated?
- Tax Issues & Divorce
Please note, changes in tax laws may occur at any time and could have substantial impact upon each person’s situation. You should discuss tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.