There’s no arguing the fact that a divorce is extremely stressful for everyone involved. Many sources recommend hiring an attorney as a way to reduce the stress because this expert will handle a big chunk of the work and help you navigate the legal side of the process. However, that same attorney can be an additional source of your stress because according to Terin Miller, the national average cost of a divorce in 2019 is $15,000 per person. And nearly all this money is the attorney’s bill.
Now, as the average American scrambles to get as little as $1,000 for an emergency, that bill is way too much for most people to handle. Therefore, many choose to go with the risks and stress but without the help of a lawyer. If you are making this decision now, you should consider the following factors when choosing whether spending all that money is worth it.
Lawyer’s bill isn’t the only cost you need to worry about
Not hiring a lawyer doesn’t mean divorce will cost you nothing. In fact, considering that some family attorneys will charge a flat rate of about $200-1500, you might end up paying more without one.
Bear in mind that that low flat fee is only applicable in cases with an uncontested divorce. However, as contested divorces are extremely complex, not hiring a lawyer to represent you in one shouldn’t even be a consideration.
If you manage to stick to an uncontested divorce, however, you will need to consider expenses such as:
- Filing fee (mandated by the state)
- Fee of the server for delivering the papers to your spouse (can be avoided if you part amicably)
- Accountant or financial advisor’s consultation (to help separate your assets)
- Mediator’s fee (if you need help negotiating that uncontested divorce)
The good news is that only the filing fee is unavoidable, but note that you’ll have to pay it again (and possibly more) if you make a mistake in the paperwork and need to repeat the procedure. In this regard, hiring an affordable lawyer with a flat fee is reasonable.
Your divorce won’t happen overnight
Many people mistakenly believe that filing the papers to the state court is all there is to a legal divorce. However, Susan E. Oehl, Esq., who is an expert guiding people on divorce procedure in California, highlights that you need to have realistic expectations for the duration the legal proceedings must take. As an example, she offers that, in theory, a divorce in California can be finalized within 6 months of filing the suit. However, in reality, the average duration of it is about 15 months.
And there are states like Nebraska or Arkansas where the mandatory waiting period and processing time take up to 18 months. And that’s without the complications of a contested divorce. Those cases can go on for years, and the exact term largely depends on you and your spouse and your willingness to settle matters out of court, explains Jessica Migala in her article.
In light of this, you should consider your budget and whether hiring a lawyer is sustainable for you. You’ll need to make sure that you understand exactly how they are going to bill you and how extending the duration of the proceedings will affect the total amount you have to pay.
There are also other costs that can be brought forth by a lengthy divorce, including rent and newly increased living expenses. Living separately will always increase the financial toll on people, especially the spouse who moves out of the house and needs to pay for another residence.
As many states require mandatory separation period of several months, you might even not be able to sell your house so you can split and move to individual residences. These costs also need to be considered when you are calculating whether hiring a lawyer is worth it, because they might be able to help you reduce the waiting period.
There are alternatives you can use
One thing you definitely need to consider is that today not hiring a lawyer doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get any help. There are many other services and experts that can help guide you through the divorce process for a much smaller fee than a lawyer’s bill.
You should definitely consider a professional mediator who can help you and your spouse to settle matters and prepare the relevant paperwork. Mediators who are experienced in the matters of divorce specifically will know all the details you need to consider when dividing your assets and separating your lives. Their guidance will be helpful not only for mitigating your personal conflicts during all this but also for understanding what exactly you have to do to split legally.
Another alternative option to a divorce attorney you can use now is online divorce services. They provide specialized information and help you through the paperwork and divorce filing process. Unlike mediators, however, they won’t help resolve your personal issues. Therefore, this option is better suited for spouses who can deal wit their issues and remain cool-headed enough to go through the necessary legal steps of a divorce without breaking down.
You should research what other alternatives are available to you and how their costs compare to what you can expect to pay a divorce lawyer. However, never forget that this kind of services is limited. It also works for straightforward uncontested divorces, but not much else.
Final Thoughts on Whether to Hire a Divorce Lawyer
There’s no doubt that in some situations hiring an attorney for your divorce is inevitable. If you have a contested divorce or if your estate exceeds some minimal size set by the state, you’ll have to use the help of a lawyer.
And this kind of help will reduce the stress of the legal process greatly, the cost of it notwithstanding. But that cost will become a stressor later on, so consider your options carefully.
You can save a lot of money without resorting to the lawyer’s services. But as the legal process can be quite complex, you will definitely benefit from some other type of affordable professional guidance. These options are limited, so it’s in your best interests to try and make your divorce as amicable as possible. This is truly the only way to make it the least stressful.