How to Pay for My Divorce

Authored by Wendy Witt, Esq.

Even under the best of circumstances, divorces and supporting 2 households costs a lot of money. As we answer this important and common question, keep 2 things in mind:

  • You probably don't have to get divorced this very minute. If waiting until your life is better funded makes sense, wait.
  • You can keep legal fees to a minimum.

Take a look at the answer to the immediately above question for cost saving tips. You can do a lot to control legal fees.

Bottom Line of Divorce Legal Fees:

  • If you are cooperative, patient, and caring, your fees will be less.
  • If you are angry, resentful, mean, and greedy, your legal fees will be exponentially higher.

Where to Find the Money to Pay Your Legal Fees:

  • Sell assets, take a home equity line of credit, and cut living expenses.
  • Get a second job.
  • Borrow from loved ones.
  • Use a credit card or get a personal loan.
  • Ask your spouse, if he or she is cooperative, or ask the court, if he or she is not cooperative, for your spouse to fund the divorce.

We've seen some recommend withdrawing assets from your IRA, 401(k), or 403(b) and we highly object, unless you are in an abusive situation and need legal help for your own safety.

  • When you make a withdrawal from a traditional retirement account, it's a taxable event and income tax will be due plus an additional 10% penalty for early withdrawal.
  • This means that if you take $10,000 out of your retirement account, you'll only be left with about $6,000 after taxes and penalty. Plus, you'll lose all the growth on that 10,000. Overtime, that withdrawal could make a difference in your quality of like in the future.

Ways of Keeping Your Divorce Bills to a Minimum

If anger and resentment supersede common sense and the desire for a fresh start, your legal bills will skyrocket. The keys to keeping your legal bills to a minimum and getting things settled, so you can heal and move on, are these:

  • Most states won't allow attorneys to state that they “specialize". Hire a lawyer who focuses his or her legal practice on divorce and family law.
  • Hire a divorce attorney who has a track record of working cooperatively with other attorneys. Assertive is good; aggressive is bad. A fighter will get you nothing other than more stress, higher fees, and further deterioration of your relationship with your spouse.
  • Identify that your divorce has two components (a legal component and an emotional component.) Work with a qualified divorce lawyer for legal issues and a trained therapist for the emotional issues. Do not use your divorce attorney as a therapist.
  • Disclose all assets and provide all requested information honestly and completely and in a timely manner.
  • Say "yes" as much as you can; only say "no" if you have a very good reason. Know that you will have to compromise and that your spouse will compromise as well, even if it doesn't look like it.
  • Try to work out a marital agreement with your spouse instead of going to court. If you come to an agreement, you will get more of what you want, get it over faster, stay in control, and keep your legal fees down.
  • Ask your divorce attorney when you can expect updates and ask questions. Stick to that schedule; in the meantime, jot down your questions or concerns and chat about them on the next conference call.
  • Take your attorney's legal advice. You're paying for an expert; follow his or her advice.
  • Do not communicate with your spouse when you are angry. Do not engage in any form of verbal, mental, emotional, or physical abuse.

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