For someone considering divorce, the first decision to consider may be the process itself. Legally, an action for divorce (“divorce papers”) must be filed with the court system, and finalized by a judge (which may take many months). However, there are several different paths to get to that point:
1. Do it Yourself
I’ve heard this called the “Kitchen Table Divorce” or the “Starbucks Divorce”. If both parties agree that they want to divorce, there may not be much to negotiate.
- With no kids, there is no need to discuss child support or parenting arrangements.
- With similar incomes, there is no need to discuss spousal support or maintenance.
- With no assets (or debts), there is no need to discuss property settlement.
You get the idea. I’ve seen this in a case where the couple was married less than two years.
Cost: Could be less than $1,000 to figure out the forms and pay an attorney to file them.
A neutral third party can help to negotiate the terms for the separation without going to court. The mediator (who is sometimes an attorney, but may not be) will help identify the issues, and come to an agreement. They then draft the terms of the separation agreement, or the agreement itself. Generally, each party then has their own “consulting” attorney review the agreement, to ensure that their client is being treated fairly. Sometimes a child specialist or financial professional may be consulted as well. I have worked as a financial neutral for both or as a consultant to one of the parties in this type of case.
On a most basic level, this process requires that the couple is able to speak to each other, and have enough confidence to voice their needs. Mediation is not appropriate for everyone. However, this process is relatively fast and inexpensive.
Cost: Will vary quite a bit depending on the complexity of the agreement and number of sessions, but $4,000 – $10,000 should be a realistic range.
3. Collaborative Divorce
This process utilizes a team approach. A full team could include:
- Attorneys for each party
- Mental health professional
- Child specialist
- Divorce coach
- Financial professional
That sounds like a lot of expensive people, but not all are necessary for every case and not all are involved in every meeting. I have worked as the financial neutral in this type of case.
This process is not for everyone, but does provide more support for each party. At a stressful time, this support can keep the process from unraveling or “getting ugly”.
Cost: Again, there is a broad range, but $20– 50,000 may be realistic.
This is what I think many people imagine the divorce process to be: all communication goes through the attorneys, and fighting over money and kids drags on for years.
Not only is this disruptive and hard on the family, it is expensive.
Cost: I’ve seen this range from $20,000 to over $100,000.
To make your decision, you’ll need to consider your ability to communicate with your spouse and (both of) your goals in the process. But I do believe cost is also a consideration, as any money spent on the divorce means less for the family.
I believe that any couple with children should at least consider mediation or collaborative divorce. In my experience, most couples want their divorce to be as painless as possible for the kids, no matter how angry they are with each other. They will need to communicate as parents down the road, so they may as well communicate regarding the divorce.
- Family and Divorce Mediation Council of Greater NY (http://fdmcgny.org/)
- NY Association of Collaborative Professionals (www.nycollaborativeprofessionals.org/)
- International Association of Collaborative Professionals (www.collaborativepractice.com)
Please note, changes in tax laws may occur at any time and could have substantial impact upon each person’s situation. You should discuss tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.