I'm a financial planner, but I'm also a lawyer. So when my marriage ended, I was able to call a friend from law school who took pity on me because of my dreadful and pathetic state and handled my divorce free of charge.
The reason she was willing and able to do that is because my marriage lasted only three years and we basically had no assets. It was the one moment in life that being broke worked in my favor. I was also willing to share the kids completely because I wanted them to have a strong father figure in their lives.
The cost of legal advice is very high, especially in a big city. The pattern I have seen among the middle and upper class (I exclude the wealthy because you might as well walk in with your bank statements pasted to your body) is a distraught wife walks in, and hands over a $50,000 retainer mainly to address custody rights. $50,000 is spent within three months and the lawyer then needs another $50,000. Next, wife obtains a home equity line of credit or to her parents. Everyone coughs up another $50,000 for the "protection" of the children, and six to nine months later, nothing is resolved and the lawyer needs more money to continue.
In smaller towns, substitute the $50,000 for $5,000 or $15,000 and you get the picture. This is why I wish more people had communication and negotiating skills before they entered into marriage.
Most of the things lawyers sort out are common sense and can discussed between two rational people. It gets tricky when one spouse wants to move away, take the children, and get lots of money. Many women want to move to the city where their parents live so they can get help from them, but the father wants to be able to see his children regularly. That's tough.
But these issues can still be discussed between two rational people. Even if the husband dumped you brutally for his young secretary, taking the kids away from him is punishing the kids. It can also be tricky if the breadwinner wants to give his ex $5 and scraps of income whenever he feels like it. Yes, these are the times lawyers come in and demand justice.
But I'm a firm believer that the spouses must try to get everything they agree on in order, and then come to the lawyers with a plan. Interview three lawyers. Ask their hourly rate and speak to a few of their clients. Pay for a consultation and listen carefully to what they think you can get; it's usually close to what you will get. Get real. You're going to have a lifestyle change and likely have to share your kids. The sooner you get to the fair result, the more you will have to split when it's over.