Pain, sadness, regret, disappointment…divorce can be emotionally fraught for families. In addition to the emotional cost, there can be a steep financial cost as well, some of which are immediate and others that can have long-term consequences.
In the short term, many considerations have financial implications once a couple has reached the difficult decision to end a marriage.
While New York State’s No Fault Divorce Law makes it faster and easier than in the past for couples to dissolve a marriage, the first step often involves each party retaining an attorney. For an uncontested divorce, the cost of an attorney can run between $5,000 and $6,000 for each party. In the case of a contested divorce, the cost can be significantly higher: plan to spend $17,000 or more for legal representation. The more complex the situation – for example, if there are custody disputes, multiple homes, or other financial assets to be divided – the more costly an attorney will be.
Money saving tip: If there is a prenuptial agreement in place, or relatively few assets or no children, divorce mediation may be more affordable than hiring an attorney. Mediation can be less stressful, less costly, and faster than litigation. Even with this option, a divorce is likely to take four to six months to complete.
Another option for couples who agree to negotiate all terms of the divorce and avoid court is collaborative divorce. With this method, each spouse hires their attorney and jointly hires a team which may include a divorce coach, a financial specialist, and a child specialist working together to find the best resolution for the family. Each spouse signs a “no court” agreement that encourages negotiation and mediation to reach mutually acceptable decisions. After the process, a settlement agreement is signed by both parties and approved by a judge, and the divorce becomes final.
Legal representation may be preferred even if a prenuptial agreement is in place. However, the prenup should save money by streamlining the process.
Another cost to consider when planning to divorce is the expense of separate housing. The options vary and may include one spouse moving out while the other remains in the marital home; selling the marital home with both spouses splitting the proceeds; or, if there are young children, there is the option of letting the children remain in the home while the parent’s alternate weeks in the home. If the home is sold, there are realtors fees, title fees, and other inherent costs. Hiring movers and purchasing or renting a new home adds to the expense. Once the living arrangements are settled, the cost of maintaining two separate households will likely result in doubling a couple’s housing costs.
While these expenses are direct and immediate, there may be other hidden costs that couples may overlook when calculating the cost of divorce. For example, there is the cost of time away from work to consult with attorneys or to attend any court proceedings. One partner may need to purchase their health insurance if they were previously covered by a spouse’s plan. Depending on the terms of the divorce agreement, one partner may lose some of the retirement benefits accruing in a spouse’s 401(K) or IRA account. If the marriage was brief, a partner who was not employed during the marriage or who earned less may not be able to collect social security under his or her spouse’s account.
If there are young children, the hidden costs multiply and last for many years. Consider the cost of travel expenses for visitation with the children, the potential cost of counseling if required, the cost of childcare, and even the cost of buying birthday and holiday gifts, which double when parents are purchasing these items separately.
Some websites offer the option of a DIY divorce. The required forms and documents are available online and may be downloaded for couples who believe they can handle the process on their own. Yet without the guidance of an experienced attorney or mediator, there may be important issues that are overlooked that, while saving money in the short term, could end up being much more expensive over the long term.
Please note that this blog post is not intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice. Rather, it
should be viewed as a starting point for further research and consideration. Please be sure to speak with
an attorney, professional divorce mediator, or a professional collaborative attorney to verify information and base any decisions regarding the dissolution of a marriage