Keeping Costs Down: How to Make a Divorce Affordable

Are there actions to take, measures to make, to help keeps costs down? Here PSP Members talk about what they did to help keep divorce costs - especially lawyer fees - down.

Related reading on PSP: Financing a Separation/Divorce


Main summary:

  • Understand the seperation process
  • Find alternatives: mediators, couples therapist, parenting coordinators are all folks who can make a lawyers job easier and therefore, less timely and costly.
  • Be clear on terms and define concepts with your partner
  • Do what you can on your own
  • Know the proper time and place to use a lawyer


Use mediation:

"If you and your partner decide to use a mediator, you will definitely both need independent layers in addition to review your separation agreement once it is done. A mediator works with both of you and is advocating for both of you, and it works if (imho) you feel that you can still work together to craft your separation agreement. My  mediator was  good at explaining what the law is, pointing out things we should consider to be fair, and  supporting our choices."


"To clarify something in the recent thread about the divorce process, there is a middle ground between mediation and lawyers+going to court. We did a session with both attorneys (a four way) that got us over some initial humps and it was at that session or soon thereafter that we were able to agree to try mediation with the encouragement and support of our attorneys. From the way my coach described it and my research, it seems the easiest/cheapest to hardest/ most expensive approaches to divorce are in this order - recognizing that the speed and cost for all the options depend entirely on the people involved:

  • First, work it out at the kitchen table
  • Then you have working w your couples therapist
  • Then you have mediation
  • Then you have collaborative divorce (lawyers who agree not to go to court - doesn't mean you can go later, just means you have to hire a diff attorney to do it)
  • Then you have two attorneys hash it out (this can be in four way sessions that can be very efficient or the two lawyers can just negotiate through everything acting as intermediaries basically)
  • Then you have court - and there you have family vs supreme.

Not always a sequential process, it seems. I hired a lawyer early on to guide me through the process. I did not hire a shark (he does mediation himself) but I made sure to hire someone who could also support me through the court process - just in case. Which, as it turns out, was and is much needed as we are knee deep in the process now. It sucks, but in retrospect, it is shocking that I even imagined it could go any other way. I don't regret the money spent on mediation or the other steps. I know I tried everything possible before going to court (although I know my ex will blame me forever for that even if it also offered him the most protection)."


Try to get the free court mediators:

"My former attny was able in our case to get the judge to refer us to the free court mediators....that might be an option. mediation was not an option unfortunately for me as my ex is very contentious and wanted to bankrupt me into giving him sole custody. he refused to attend the mediation sessions after the first one. he had previously been pushing for us to split the cost 50/50 of the $400 an hr mediator his attny found but I said no to that because he earns quadruple my income and he would just go in and let the costs rack up and not agree to anything.


Use a parenting coordinator:

"It is definitely cheaper than using  a lawyer.  Going through lawyers means litigating/negotiating, which means filings in court, discovery requests, discovery disputes, document review, frequent phone call, legal research--every minute of which is billed to you."


Use a Couples Therapist for some things:

"It's cheaper overall only because 1 lawyer vs two ... I guess our divorce would be called rely amicable, from what I am reading here. Our finances are really tight as singles. In the begging at least we were considering keeping expenses low as a couple. And we managed  to agree on things like custody ahead of time with our  couples therapist in a few sessions. (She charged us $225/hr) which made the mediation move quickly."

and as another parent adds:

"We had 3 1hr sessions and one 1hr by phone.  Have to add that we didn't start the process with the mediator until we had already  worked out custody and real estate ... We had been working with a couples therapist for a few years prior, and we did this work with her."


Be clear on terms. Right off the bat, clarify what things like 50/50 split logistically means, especially in situations when your ex-partner is a high earner:

"BTW, just a note: We started with a mediator and our separation was very amicable - until my ex found out that he was going to have to pay child support, even though we had agreed to 50/50 split custody. That's when he started fighting for "a bit more time" ... and eventually for full custody. Make sure both parties understand that even an exact 50/50 split will mean child support for the better earning parent - and how much that will mean."


Do what you can on your own. But remember, a lawyer can handle things when you emotionally cannot; ultimately saving money in the long run:

"I basically handled my whole case by myself, paperwise, and wrote beautiful affidavits that made all the difference in Court, but at my 8th Court Appearance (or was it the 9th? 99th?) I had a panic attack. It makes me feel bad to say I hired a lawyer to keep my sanity, have company, to spend 1 or 2 hours max in the waiting room - instead of 6 - and lastly to make sure nothing was being overseen. "