Often one of the first questions I get during a consultation (or even a phone call) is “How much is this going to cost?” I understand why. There is a big fear that the divorce will cost a lot of money and there is not enough money to go around. It may even be why you are getting divorced – you fight all the time about money. What most people do not realize – it is up to the spouses as to how much their divorce will cost.
How can that be the case? Simple, the way you divorce will dictate the cost.
According to Martindale-Nolo Research’s 2015 Divorce Study, the average litigated divorce in New Jersey costs $15,600 and takes about 16 ½ months. If children are involved, the costs goes up to $23,400 in attorney’s fees and other costs. This is the cost of a car, downpayment on a home or a year in college. This is a lot of money to spend and the only result you can be assured of is that you will be divorced at the end.
The length of time also is a factor to consider. If the divorce goes to trial, it could take as long as 21 months (or more depending on the County) before a trial occurs. At the end of the trial, it may be months (or even years) before you get a final decision. During all this time, you are stuck in limbo and cannot move forward. The length of time spent in and out of Court can also impact on your wallet – days of work missed due to court dates, tax concerns, etc.
However, not every divorce needs to go through litigation. Many couples can benefit from using forms of alternative dispute resolution like mediation and collaborative divorce.
Mediation can be substantially less expensive. I have seen estimates of a mediated divorce in New Jersey costing parties anywhere from $2,000 to $9,000. It is not unusual for a mediated divorce to cost the parties in total around $5,000. This is significantly less than a litigated divorce. Mediated divorces are also often much quicker – the parties could have an agreement after a couple of sessions and be done within a month or a couple of months.
Collaborative divorces are also less expensive than litigated divorces. The parties agree to remain out of Court. Each party has his or her own attorney and there is a divorce coach who assists in the process. A collaborative divorce may also have a financial neutral and/or a financial advisor to assist.
I know you are thinking – “well if there are 2 attorneys and a coach and other professionals, how is it less expensive?” Simple. In the collaborative divorce, the parties do a lot of the “homework” before the meetings. Parties can also meet with just the coach to address things like parenting time. Because the process is managed by the parties with the assistance of their attorneys, it is more streamlined. While there are no formal surveys suggesting how much a collaborative divorce costs, many collaborative attorneys agree that collaborative divorces costs between 1/3 to ½ of the cost of a litigated divorce.
There is another cost benefit with mediation and collaborative divorce that is not talked about. Many times with litigated cases, the parties end up in Court again and again AFTER the divorce is done. It may be to change parenting time, deal with financial issues, or just because the parties are still angry with one another. Mediated and collaborative divorces don’t usually end up in Court. If a dispute arises post-divorce, the parties go back to mediation or the collaborative process.
Unfortunately, not every couple can resolve their differences through mediation or collaborative divorce. If there is a domestic violence restraining order or if one party is not cooperative, then you are stuck with litigation as the only option. But for those people who can utilize mediation or collaborative divorce as an alternative to traditional litigation, there can be substantial cost savings. This does not even include the costs of time and aggravation which are so often associated with Court.
The best way to save money in your divorce is to meet with a trained mediator and collaborative professional to determine what method of divorce would work best for you and your spouse. Only a trained professional can provide a realistic assessment as to whether you and your spouse are a good fit for mediation or collaborative divorce. Even if the hourly rate is a little more than other attorneys, in the long run a trained professional can end up saving you money.