I’ve Decided to Get a Divorce — What Are My Options?
If you’ve decided to file for divorce, you are likely becoming aware of the multitude of options available to you. Whichever route you choose, whether it’s litigation (where each spouse lawyers up), collaboration (each spouse has an attorney but there’s no litigation), mediation, the do-it-yourself model, or online divorce, it’s rarely an easy process. The last option, however, is less expensive, less complicated, and free of hair pulling. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you make your decision.
Divorcing with an Attorney
A traditional divorce — one involving attorneys — usually takes place in an adversarial legal system, and it’s not always a pretty picture. When each spouse retains an attorney, it’s important to know that this may be the most conflicting and time-intensive way to divorce, as well as possibly the most expensive.
On the other hand, a good divorce attorney is up-to-date regarding the most current case law and can advise their clients about any specific issues relevant to your circumstance. Many people choose to go this route, as they often don’t have the knowledge or conflict management skills to handle the divorce themselves. (WATCH: Why Are Courtroom Divorces More Expensive Than Wevorce?)
The Financial Risks
However, should you decide to seek legal representation, be cautious: some divorce costs are not included in the initial attorney fees. These can include filing fees, court costs, mandatory parenting education, evaluations for everything from the best interest of the child to the parties’ abilities to work together, and mediation fees.
The standard practice is for an attorney to ask for a retainer to take your case, the average cost is about $5,000. And, it’s important to remember a retainer will most likely not be the entire cost to complete your divorce. When a retainer is depleted, whether by traditional hourly rates charged for time or other costs and services (valuing assets, restructuring joint business ventures, etc.) incurred in the legal matter, further payments will be expected. (Remember, attorneys will zealously argue for their client as their profession is trained and obligated to do.) Depending on how long settlement is drawn out, time and cost will increase and is easy to see how the average cost of litigated divorce sits at about $27,000.
There is also a branch of legal counsel that includes collaborative lawyers. These attorneys often start by having their clients sign an agreement not to litigate or go to trial, but rather to work toward a settlement. This process usually includes two attorneys and other experts to help the family collaborate and make final decisions for their divorce agreements.
Some individuals also opt to start with a mediator or team of mediators who specialize in divorce and child custody. These professionals can walk couples through issues that need to be considered, while allowing them to discover their own creative ways to address and resolve them. This process can include counsel from attorneys to review decisions and provide additional questions or information. Attorneys can also help craft the remaining documents needed to file with the court. Mediation can also result in agreements that are complete and clear enough to submit to the court using the local court’s basic do-it-yourself forms.
Divorcing Without an Attorney
Technically, you can also get a divorce without an attorney. You can pursue a mediated divorce and not involve an attorney (as discussed in the previous paragraph) or you can get a do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce. Filing for a divorce without an attorney means you are filing pro se, and representing yourself in the divorce case. (Learn more about getting an online divorce here.)
For couples that do not own property together, earn similar salaries, and have no children under the age of 18, a DIY divorce may be a good fit. It is also usually the less expensive option available. If you do not fall into this rather narrow category, consider the following questions before filing pro se:
- Are you and your spouse in agreement about how you will divide your assets and handle jointly owned properties?
- Have you and your spouse discussed — and agreed upon — a residential arrangement for your children allowing adequate time with both parents?
- Have you and your spouse agreed on spousal support?
- Do you and your spouse agree that the terms you’ve agreed to are fair and equitable?
- Do you have enough time and patience to figure out your state’s divorce laws and sit down with your spouse to hammer out the necessary paperwork?
- Do you fully understand the tax issues surrounding a divorce and how they might affect your future tax status?
- Are you completely confident your spouse is not hiding assets or earnings?
- Have you and your spouse worked through the emotional aspects surrounding the breakdown of your marriage?
The legal paperwork required to file for a divorce varies according to your state (and even by county) of residence, as well as whether you own joint property and have minor children. Most states now offer divorce forms online, in downloadable form. There are forms for marriages that do not involve property or dependent/minor children. The courthouse may have resources available to assist you in completing these forms. (If you choose to file pro se, here are some tools to help you get started.)
A Word of Caution
Depending on your state and situation, there will probably be additional paperwork required for your divorce, such as a marriage settlement agreement and documents related to your child custody or parent visitation plan. It’s important to note that successful form completion does not always mean “successful” divorce.
One of the biggest problems with the pro se approach is this: many families who opt to go the do-it-yourself route find out months or years later that they neglected important details in their parenting plan or asset division in a rush to “just complete the forms.” It’s common for couples to complete forms and not list all the property and debts, or create a sound parenting plan thinking they will figure it out later. This can lead to complicated situations not easily remedied once a decree is signed by the judge and filed in the court.
Specific risks to hurrying through the process can include:
- Locking yourself into an unfair settlement.
- Having the court reject your divorce request due to missing paperwork, vague settlement agreements or a missed step in the legal process.
- Missing key agreements to help keep you out of court in the future.
- Opening up old emotional wounds you didn’t expect to feel from your divorce.
The Wevorce Way
At Wevorce, we take a different approach — helping our clients to divorce amicably, while keeping personal and financial dignity intact through the process. We achieve this by using an innovative technology platform, a family-friendly methodology, and a community of attorneys, counselors, and other experts who share our goal: Changing Divorce for Good®.
Wevorce is unlike any other option available today in that we take you through our self-guided product in a step-by-step, user-friendly way to help address the legal, financial and emotional aspects of divorce. At any time, should someone get stuck, they can easily access co-parenting and financial experts capable of helping untangle some of your biggest challenges. These experts can work with you, and with the help of our technology, to easily provide the support you need every step of the way.
One woman (name omitted to ensure privacy) offered the following feedback after completing the Wevorce process:
“Wevorce saved my divorce.
My divorce could have been filled with anger and resentment, but I decided to “untie the knot” with guidance, truth, and love for my daughter and her Dad.
I needed to create a different long-term family relationship that was based on love and not the shame or blame of divorce.
Wevorce gave each of us the tools, expertise, and respect of walking through our divorce process in compassion.
The feelings are raw and the healing is continuing … but, we listen to one another and I am grateful to Wevorce for saving my relationship with my daughter and her father … we are still a family, just living in different homes.”
When the process is complete, Wevorcers are given all the necessary legal documentation with the added assurance an attorney located in the state you are filing has reviewed the final documents as well. Not to mention, a lifetime of tools, knowledge, and agreements to guide them as they navigate life post-divorce.
Whatever option you choose, remember that divorce is a process, and it will take time to ensure all bases are covered. But if you have to choose, take it from thousands of families who have uncoupled without the trauma and infighting that often is associated with traditional divorce: Wevorce is, simply, the better way. An amicable divorce can dramatically improve your family’s chances of having happy, healthy lives once the dust settles.