*Shannon Leary was heartbroken when she realized she and her husband were headed for divorce, especially considering she had only been married for three years and had an infant son. “My husband and I knew each other since high school, and it sucked that we couldn’t find a way to figure things out,” she says. “But we were done.”
Since she and her husband didn’t own property together or have significant investments, she thought they’d be able resolve the divorce affordably. That is, until she started meeting with her attorney: Hurt feelings on both sides and endless custody negotiations started to rack up the billable hours. Within a year, both she and her husband were knee deep in tens of thousands of dollars in fees and nowhere closer to resolution.
“By the time we actually got divorced, we weren’t even arguing about money anymore. There wasn’t much left to split up!”
Shannon ended up going into debt to resolve her divorce, a financial hit many women suffer after the big breakup. Recent research shows that at least a quarter of women end up in poverty after a divorce, losing their health insurance, homes, and a steady source of income. If you’re one of the millions of women who are considering divorce right now, follow the check list below. Financial advisor Jeff Landers, author of Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally says there are crucial steps you can take to avoid financial catastrophe and lower the cost of divorce.
*Shannon’s name is changed to protect her identity.
1) Think carefully before you go DIY. LegalZoom‘s promises of $299 divorce packages can be tempting, but Landers says the option won’t work for most people. “Unless you have absolutely no assets and no children, it doesn’t make much sense. There’s too much to consider, from your IRA and 401K to the value of your house. It would be like doing surgery on yourself!” Landers also doesn’t advise mediators (who cost between $100-$300 an hour) for most women, especially if they are concerned that men might be hiding money. “They’re trained to be neutral, and you need someone who will fight for your side.” So how much does a divorce cost in an ideal situation? “If you’re dealing with two people, and you’re having a truly amicable divorce, you can hire an attorney and get it for a few thousand dollars,” says Landers.
“If you’re dealing with two people, and you’re having a truly amicable divorce, you can hire an attorney and get it done for a few thousand dollars,” says Landers.2) Remember that your attorney is not your psychologist. “A lot of clients will spend a good 15-20 minutesranting about emotional issues with an attorney, who will happily charge for that time,” says Landers. “A therapist would be much cheaper, and better equipped, to help you resolve those issues.” Also, consider attending a few couples therapist sessions before you file. Dealing with emotional issues and potential terms of a breakup upfront could help prevent arguments in the attorney’s office later.