Financing a Separation/Divorce

Financing separation/divorce and paying for the costs of lawyers, mediators, and therapists can be costly.

In 2015, Park Slope Parents conducted a survey of single, divorced and seperated (SDS) parents, asking about their experience, advice and tips to share. Here, parents respond to the PSP SDS Survey question:  "What advice would you give people about affording, paying for and financing a divorce? This can include creative financing, joint vs. individual accounts, insurance issues and whatever else you might offer someone going through the process of separation and divorce so they are as smart as they can be about things." Here are the answers.


Consider extra, unecessary costs and move quickly as you can through the process:

"Settle as quickly as possible before trial. Do not spend any money on an attorney for the child (they are pretty much useless if you do no have a true case of child abuse), parent coordinator (useless as well), and a forensic psychologist (the industry is unregulated and therefore critical errors are made without penalty)."


Do not abuse the time of your lawyer:

"Use your attorney's time wisely; your attorney is not your therapist; he/she will read your emails complaining about your ex and will charge you for reading them. Attorneys are there to act on critical legal issues only; pendent lite, child support, motions, equitable distribution, etc. If your divorce is contested, but there are no signs of abuse, then go for mediation instead. It's 1,000 times more cost effective."


Become knowledgable with all the legal facts:

"Educate yourself on case law so that you can save thousands of dollars in legal fees. You know more about your divorce than any lawyer in any divorce case would ever known."


Just know it "will all work out":

"I was so scared to be a single Mom, especially since it wasn't my choice to break up our family, afraid that the divorce and being custodial parent would bankrupt me. Trust yourself that you will figure out the money part.  Just believe.


Use a mediator if possible:

Try to work it out on your own if at all possible!  I realize many couples can't do that but we're trying.  I'm a lawyer and when I heard the retainer for a divorce lawyer I think is even reasonable ($10K!), I can't afford that.  Who can?  And $350 or more per hour times umpteen hours?  No, I just think if possible use a mediator, and stick with that, work it out yourselves if possible and if not then - not even sure, I'm not at that point yet.


Consider an attorney only for crucial times:

"Some attorneys will not charge you a full retainer, but you can hire them for "court appearance."

""Get legal advice early on to understand your rights and responsibilities but, Don't hire an attorney to represent you until you have a deal worked out.  Otherwise you will burn insane amounts of money having someone negotiate who has the kids for Labor Day Weekend and what time s/he has to drop them off at your house. Work out those points on your own(even (especially) if your ex lawyered up."


Having a clear cut case helps:

"Of course having a clear cut case will be helpful, in case of a very contentious separation you will have to face steeper fees on top of the aggravation caused by a stressful separation."


Plan and budget:

"Get all your ducks in a row. Know your position and weigh what is the best option. Budget how much you need for the process and what you need to walk away with and tell your attorney."


Consider help from your family:

"My family has (gratefully) paid for my legal needs.  I would advise that you confidentially discuss your finances before entering into the divorce."


Ask about costs upfront:

"Ask questions about all the costs. Make sure you ask specific questions if you can't come to an agreement easily, ask about these extra costs. Best way to do it is by the hour so this way you know pretty much how much you will be paying in addition to the filing fees and other costs - which you should ask about too."


Stay focused:

"First, stay focused on what you need the attorney to do. i.e. don't fight to get every last dollar from your ex and make them "pay" for their wrongs. Just focus on getting out quickly, cleanly, and in a position where you won't be financially hurting in the future. With this in mind, you only contact your attorney for what really counts."


Manage and record everything:

"Then management: review the invoices your attorney sends. I kept track of conversations and events w/ my attorney in a private google calendar, so the moment I hang up the phone w/ him, I add in a note, "10 min phone call."


Sell your engagement ring:

"Consider selling your engagement and wedding ring to pay for the attorney (its poetic, in a way)."


Take advantage of your health insurance benefits to get a therapist:

"I use insurance and a health savings account to pay for my therapist. Some companies offer "Employee assistance benefit" or something similar, and my cover some of the therapy - depending on your company."


Consider a more alternative way of seperating:

"We are an odd example---we chose not legally divorce just because it did not make financial sense for our family.  My ex has his own place, but we still share bank accounts, he still receives mail at my place...financially, everything is still the same."


Set principle aside and do what is in the best interest of your child:


"We have been able to amicably sort out custody and finance arrangements without involving lawyers.  At one point it seemed like things could get very contentious over the difference of $200 a month.  We both, in principle, were going to fight over this amount and were prepared to escalate things.  When we both cooled off and stepped back we realized that we needed to work together, set "principle" aside and reach an agreement.  It was in our daughter's best interest and in the best interest of each of us.  And to spend money on lawyers to fight over something just to win didn't make sense.  There needs to be compromise and logic at a time when you're hurting and feeling defensive.  It's a tough balance to find what is right, what you need and what is fair to all involved."


Use mediation and a lawyer who encourages it:

Avoid lawyers who are not open to mediation. Mediation helps reduce costs, and those lawyers who are eager for billable hours tend to encourage a more litigious process. I had to switch lawyers to a friend because I couldn't afford to pay the one I had retained initially. My husband's lawyer was much better in terms of caring about the costs and recognizing that we were going broke.


Further reading on PSP:

PSP Member Reviewed Lawyers and Mediators

Keeping Costs Down: How to Make a Divorce Affordable