Saving Dollars & Making Sense of Divorce

Here's how you can part ways without taking the financial plunge

you represent yourself or use an attorney, estimate how much you think your divorce will cost-up front-so you can make all of your payments in a timely fashion. At a bare minimum, you’ll need to pay court filing and service fees, which range from $100 to $150; a service charge of approximately $25 for the marshal to serve your spouse with your complaint; and approximately $30 for a divorce counseling course-if it’s required by your state, all depending on the jurisdiction. Attorney fees vary widely, according to the attorney’s experience and geographical area. “But you can expect those lawyers that specialize in domestic work to charge more than a general attorney,” Long notes. “When the plaintiff hires the attorney, a fee is set. Initially, the plaintiff gives the attorney a retainer, but the balance must be paid before the trial date.”

Open communication between a husband and wife provides the most valuable protection against a costly divorce, but sometimes lawyers, hurt feelings and pride interfere. “Of course you don’t want to talk to your spouse. You’re getting a divorce, and one of the main reasons you’re getting one is a difficulty in your relationship with your spouse,” says Borden. “However, if you can’t talk to your spouse, your divorce will take longer and cost more. In all likelihood, it will probably hurt more too, because things will drag out and you will realize at some point that you have lost control.”

Don Williams of South Carolina certainly felt his divorce had gotten out of control. The climate between the couple was so heated that a judge ordered mutual restraining orders during their separation hearing. And the situation didn’t get any better. During the year preceding their divorce, accusations had begun flying around their small town, causing a buzz that was so strong Williams believed his job was in jeopardy. “I had a lot at stake, my career in particular. So I felt I needed the highest caliber representation,” he declares. The 37-year-old, who is a security police officer at a nuclear facility, turned to the best attorney he felt his money could buy. After he doled out a $2,000 retainer fee, additional costs quickly multiplied. His lawyer charged $350 for court appearances, $175 for office visits, $25 for telephone conversations, $1.75 for each fax and 30 cents each for copies. Mrs. Williams was also footing the bill for her attorney fees. When it was all over, the couple had spent more than $5,000 in legal fees. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to settle anything on our own. The judge had to split everything,” he recalls.

“Adversarial divorces cost too much money, take too long, inflict too much pain and leave both spouses feeling like losers,” insists Borden. In an adversarial divorce, you, your spouse, your lawyer, your spouse’s lawyer and the judge all have to be present and ready to take action. If any one of these parties is absent or unprepared, your case will probably be at a standstill

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