Thinking about divorce is emotionally stressful. This stress is compounded when you have limited finances and are struggling to simply pay your monthly expenses. It can feel as if you are stuck with no real solution. The good news is there are ways for you to move forward while minimizing the cost of the divorce.
Work Towards Reaching Agreement
Before you scoff at the idea of agreeing with each other, consider that a judge will only sign a final divorce order once all legal issues are resolved. These include issues such as property division, child custody and support, and spousal support. There are likely areas that you both can agree to. Work towards consensus now.
Working together to finalize financial and family agreements is financial planning for your future, which is especially important when there are children or support issues to consider. The reality is that focusing on your shared goals rather than your differences will save you money, time, and stress. Working towards agreements means less time (and money) fighting in court, and more control in preserving your future.
Choose Mediation over Litigation
In a traditional litigated divorce, each party hires their own attorney. The litigation process is most often adversarial. The attorneys are positioned to keep the couple endlessly fighting over every issue. This fighting translates to billable time for both attorneys to prepare documents, meet with the opposition, and appear in court to resolve disputed issues. Litigation attorneys most often charge upfront retainers totaling $10,000 to $25,000 per party, depending on the complexity of the case. Once these retainers are expended, another retainer will be required, or you will lose your attorney.
In mediation, your mediator serves as your neutral professional specially trained to help you find common ground, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Your mediator provides you with the tools and motivation to reach agreements beneficial to your unique family situation. Mediators billing practices vary. They can charge an upfront retainer (generally far lower than in litigation), a fixed-fee rate for a defined number of meetings and services, or a ‘pay-as-you-go’ plan which allows you to avoid upfront retainers. If you pay an hourly rate, unlike in litigation, you will pay one professional (versus two) to help you develop durable, legally binding agreements designed to be a win/win for the entire family.
Do it Yourself: Use Free Services Available at the Court Clerk’s Office
Depending on the complexity of your finances and family situation, it is possible to complete your own divorce (also referred to as self-representation or Pro Per/Pro Se).
- Self-Help Courthouse Services. Visit the self-help portal at your local courthouse (online or in person). You will find no-fee, self-help workshops, procedural assistance, court forms, and tutorials for filling out and filing family law forms. Note that you will not receive legal advice.
- Court Filing Fee Waivers. Court filing fees can be costly. Fees can range from $400 to $500 per party in California. Check your local court website for a Family Law Filing Fee schedule. There are circumstances under which the court will waive fees, for example, if you can show limited income or are receiving any public benefits, such as Medi-Cal or food assistance.
Hire a Lawyer for Guidance and Review of Documents
Even if you opt to self-represent in court, it is wise to consult with a licensed family law attorney to review your documents to ensure they are proper and binding before you file them in court. Correcting document errors before they are filed will save you valuable time and money in the long run.
If you are interested in finding out more about how Family Peacemaker can help you with your Family Law matter, contact us for a free case assessment consultation.