Last Updated on November 13, 2023 by Lori Pace
Marriages and divorces across the states are down, a recent Census report shows. Amid slightly fewer women getting married in 2021, divorce rates dropped noticeably more to 6.9 per 1,000 women (aged 15 and above) from 9.7 per 1,000 women 10 years ago.
The report doesn’t state the reasons for the decline, but experts discovered that most countries, not just the U.S., report dropping marriage rates. According to one study by anthropologists at the University of Houston, some reasons include seeking independence, security of living with family members, and the ever-pervasive risk of infidelity.
Divorce expenses may also be a deterrent to marriage. With the average cost between USD$15,000 and USD$20,000, as per a Forbes estimate, it’s no surprise some women are hesitant to get hitched. But if you’re trapped in a marriage that’s long overdue for divorce, there are ways to keep costs to a more manageable amount.
Mediation is different from court litigation in many ways. For starters, it doesn’t occur in court, which saves the couple in court fees, though they may have to pay a lawyer to serve as the third party. Moreover, the result of one usually leans toward a win-win situation.
Choosing a mediator vs divorce lawyer boils down to two things: the nature of the divorce and your budget. Without court expenses and with the option of choosing a non-lawyer to mediate the divorce, mediation is much cheaper. It also makes sense if the divorce involves children or can be completed quickly and more amicably.
However, mediation won’t be effective if there’s a clear animosity between the couple, such as a history of domestic violence or the other party hiring a lawyer. In such situations, you can expect the other party to put their foot down and settle the matter before a judge. Also, if you feel you’re entitled to a larger portion of marital property, this method is less likely to achieve that outcome.
Mediators can’t provide legal advice to both parties, even if they’re divorce lawyers. Doing so defeats the purpose of them being a neutral witness to the proceedings.
It isn’t unusual for women to favor divorce in the heat of an infuriating or frightening moment. But as cooler heads prevail, some find out that they aren’t exactly ready to part ways with their spouse, at least for the meantime.
If you can’t decide but need some time for yourself, experts advise a trial separation. This is an informal agreement between the couple outlining the terms in case of a separation but not a full-on divorce.
A trial separation differs from a legal separation in that it doesn’t involve the court or a lawyer. It lists the couple’s responsibilities while living separately until they can work out their differences, if not to decide whether to push through with divorce. This cool-off period helps you make more rational choices come decision time.
That said, a trial separation isn’t legally binding in any way, so it can’t be used to support your claims in court proceedings. Also, as they’re still technically married, the couple has claims to marital properties, including those gained during the separation period, such as lottery winnings.
A lesser-known method of keeping divorce costs to a minimum is collaborative divorce, which lies between mediation and a court proceeding. It happens out of court, but instead of the couple, their respective legal counsels do the talking. While it requires paying for a lawyer, it falls short of the costs required for litigation.
Collaborative divorce allows both parties to remain in control of the terms of the divorce instead of having a judge or third party decide for them. It also promotes collaboration (hence, the term) between parties, as it aims to produce a settlement favorable to both sides. More importantly, as lawyers are witnesses, the resulting agreement can be legally binding.
Unfortunately, you stand to lose a lot when this approach doesn’t work. Collaborative divorce often requires the couple to agree that neither will pursue the matter in court, regardless of the outcome. If they do so otherwise, the participating lawyers have the right to refuse to represent them in court, prompting the need to hire a different one.
When A Divorce Takes To Court
Some divorce cases will eventually reach the courtroom, and the judge will have the final say on the matter. However, you aren’t out of cost-effective options yet. While there’s little you can do to minimize court expenses, there are two ways to lower your lawyer’s fees.
The first is limited assistance representation (LAR), wherein a lawyer’s activities are limited to some tasks like filing legal documents or representing you in some hearings. Most lawyers are paid by the hour or via a retainer, so LAR is a good way to reduce their fees. However, keep in mind that you’ll be responsible for the other tasks.
Another way is through pro bono arrangements, in which lawyers provide their services free of charge or at an extremely low cost. Most professionals who offer such services usually hail from nonprofit organizations, state bar associations, or legal clinics. The downside is that a pro bono setup prioritizes cases of significant public interest (e.g., civil rights).
The high cost of divorce can’t be stated enough, let alone the importance of taking it seriously. Whether you plan to settle out-of-court or before a court of law, know that the actual cost is based on a range of factors. As a general rule, it’s better to exhaust all out-of-court solutions before resorting to arbitration by a judge.