Divorce is big business. Maybe you've seen the documentary, Divorce Corp., which tells the story about the family court system in the United States and shows a glimpse of what people getting divorced go through.
If you haven't watched the movie, rent it. There may be differing opinions about the effectiveness of our family courts, but I would have a hard time finding someone to disagree that divorce is big business.
On top of paying court fees for filings and other things, retaining an experienced divorce lawyer is not cheap. Divorce attorneys mostly charge an hourly rate for their services, which is not unique. But, in a contested divorce, it's not uncommon for multiple motions to be filed during the course of the proceedings. Most divorces take in excess of one year to complete, so that leaves a lot of opportunity for disputes to arise.
Well, in case you don't know, paying an attorney to file a motion and go to court to argue it is not cheap. For example, one of the most common types of motions filed in a divorce is for temporary financial relief. It's an in-depth motion that requires a lot of time and attention to detail. I can tell you that in my former practice, the cost to draft, file, reply to opposition, and orally argue this type of motion before a judge would cost roughly $3,500-$4,000. That's just one motion!
My point is that getting divorced with an attorney is expensive. Not everyone has that type of money. That's why I do what I do—I coach people who can't afford an attorney how to represent themselves in their divorce; because, whether you have an attorney or not, you have to go through the process if you want to make it official.
So, how do you get divorced if you're broke? Here are five tips to help guide you:
Do your homework.
Getting divorced on your own is not easy. You have to put in the time and the effort so you are prepared for each step of the process. Learn what type of discovery you are entitled to and what to request of your spouse. Learn court procedure and the law in your state when it comes to child support, alimony, and division of assets. It's stressful enough when you have an attorney. A lot of information can be found online these days. Use your resources.
Go on a few attorney consultations.
You might not have thousands of dollars to retain an attorney, but if you can afford it, pay for a couple of consultations with an experienced divorce attorney. One hour with the right person can save you tons of time. If you can't afford to pay for a consult, find a free one to get you pointed in the right direction.
Don't sweat the small stuff.
When you're representing yourself, you have to manage your divorce like a business. And you have to manage your personal emotions on top of that. A divorce is like a roller coaster—you will have your ups and downs. You will burn out if you treat everything like a nuclear war. Be aware of the big picture and don't get stuck in the mud.
Go to mediation.
If you have the right spouse and he or she is amenable to settling amicably, mediation might be right for you. This is a great tool if you have the right case. Mediation is quicker and cheaper than litigating through the courts.
Get the judge to like you.
If you do go to court, the best thing you can do is get on your judge's good side. In divorce court, credibility is everything. If the judge likes you and believes what you are arguing, you have won half the battle. On the other hand, if the judge doesn't like you…good luck. Don't underestimate the power of credibility and the role it plays in your divorce.