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Married couples contemplating a split always wonder if they can afford a divorce. And even though the average cost of divorce in the United States is reported to be approximately $15,000, there are many variables that can drive your costs up and far beyond that.

To nail down specific numbers, savvy divorce attorneys may charge $400 or $500 per-hour, plus expenses — and others could start as low as $165 per-hour.

But the hourly rate of the attorney is not the only cost to consider, nor should it be your first. There are many other fees to consider: the court filing fees, the number of issues to be litigated, the number of legal filings, cost of appraisers, expert witnesses and use of a mediator ... all of which can add to the total.

Additionally, contested divorces can take a year or more to settle while your cost meter keeps running up!

And even though the cheapest way to uncouple is to use the do-it-yourself forms on the Internet, which will only cost you about $300 (if, and only if, there are no issues involved that could lead to problems), most do not recommend this route because it is always best that each party have an attorney involved to make sure mistakes are not made.

So, as you start down the unfamiliar path of divorce, here are six tips to help you save on your bills and minimize unnecessary hourly attorney fees:

1. Get Organized. Secure required tax forms, mortgage and financial information.

2. Don’t call the attorney constantly with questions. Save them up for one call.

3. Try talking to a junior attorney with lower hourly fees.

4. Negotiate and settle issues with your spouse in advance.

5. If negotiation is not possible, have your attorney negotiate a settlement outside of court.

6. Mediation is another cost saver. Experienced in family law, mediators can usually sort out matters in less than eight hours and the cost is about $5,000. It is advisable that each party have an attorney.

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