Think hiring an attorney is the only way to get divorced? Think again. There are 5 ways to get divorced, from economical to most expensive. Which one is right for you?
Do-It-Yourself Divorce: You and your spouse have resolved all financial, tax and parenting issues. You have the time to read through lengthy instructions, draft the paperwork and file papers in court. Most states or bar associations sell handbooks (often called a "Friendly Divorce Handbook") on how to manage your own divorce and fill out the paperwork. You can also search on-line for your state's website on uncontested divorces for a brief version of the information.
Cost: $200 - $500 for filing fees.
Speed: Takes a couple weeks to do the paperwork and obtain notarized signatures, but you'll still have to wait for a final divorce order from the court, which could take 2 weeks to 6 months, depending on the court.
On-line Do-It-Yourself Divorce: This is similar to the Do-It-Yourself Divorce, except that you don't have to obtain the blank court documents. Instead, the on-line software program asks you questions, you type in your answers and the program will fill out the paperwork for you. Then you print out the final documents, get them notarized and file them in court. (Click the following for The Online Options For Getting A Divorce.)
Cost: $400-$1000 (includes the on-line program and filing fees).
Speed: Slightly faster than the typical Do-It-Yourself Divorce because the on-line program simplifies the paperwork.
Mediated Divorce: If you and your spouse have not resolved on all financial, tax and parenting issues, but you are able to sit down in the same room together, then a neutral mediator who guides you both through the issues might be right for you. The goal of mediation is to help you reach a settlement without going to court. Not all mediators are attorneys. If he/she is also an attorney, then the mediator-attorney will prepare the legal documents and file them in court for you. Mediation is voluntary, but becomes binding when a signed agreement is reached, and either party can decide to litigate the issues in court if no resolution is reached. (Click the following for more on How Mediation Works.)
Cost: Hourly fees for the mediation sessions, plus fixed fees for the preparation and filing of legal documents. No retainer. Total cost generally ranges from $1,500 - $6,000 depending on where you live and the complexity of the case.
Speed: Mediation may take one week to three months depending on the complexity of the case. Again, as with any type of divorce, once the papers are filed you will still have to wait for the final divorce order.
Collaborative Divorce: If you and your spouse have not reached agreement on all issues, but you are able to sit down together and cooperate, and you and your spouse feel more comfortable with attorneys representing each of your interests, then you may want to hire collaborative lawyers. All of the issues are decided at four-way meetings (i.e. you collaborate). If the parties cannot reach a settlement through this approach, the collaborative lawyers withdraw from the case and you and your spouse are free to retain trial attorneys to pursue the matter in court.
Cost: Most collaborative attorneys collect retainers and charge hourly rates, which vary considerably. The costs are higher than those in mediation (especially since there are two attorneys rather than one mediator), but less than those in a litigated divorce.
Speed: Collaborative Divorce may take two months to one year, depending on how difficult it is to reach agreement on the issues.
Litigated Divorce: You and your spouse have not reached agreement on financial, tax and parenting issues, you are not able to sit down in the same room and/or you feel unable to effectively negotiate with your spouse (perhaps because your spouse refuses to negotiate with you or there is a severe imbalance of power or you believe that your spouse is hiding assets). Both of you hire independent attorneys who do formal discovery (i.e. collect and/or subpoena financial information from your spouse) and negotiate on your behalf. If you cannot settle, then your attorney will take your case to trial.
Cost: Retainers may range from $2,500 to $10,000. Attorneys charge hourly fees for their work. Total cost for the divorce (for both spouses combined) may range from $10,000 to $200,000 and up.
Speed: Litigation usually takes one to two years or more. If you litigate, be sure that the fight is worth the time and money.
When all else fails:
Arbitration: This method is generally used only after a litigated divorce becomes very prolonged and expensive. You and your spouse would each have an attorney for the arbitration proceeding, which is basically conducted like a shortened trial. The arbitrator acts like a judge, making final decisions on selected issues. Arbitration is usually binding, which means that neither party can appeal the arbitrator's decision.
If you have decided to get a divorce, we've assembled a simple, 7-step overview on how to prepare for your divorce. Start here with Divorce Prep: Steps One and Two
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