The estimates are only averages, of course; they may not be an accurate gauge for what either of those events would cost you. However, there's no question that for most people, these are serious expenses. And the limit in either case can be the boundary of outer space.
Racking up legal bills and court fees -- to say nothing of paying for private investigators and forensic accountants to find the assets you're sure are hidden -- can be too easy, particularly if you lust for vengeance.
If you're thinking about divorce, it's too late for a prenup. But you and the soon-to-be-ex can go for a saner and financially sensible breakup that will be easier on you both. Call it cost-conscious uncoupling.
7 Ways to Separate Yourselves from the High Cost of Divorce
The fundamental cause of skyrocketing costs is the desire for emotional satisfaction. Too often, people want a court to say that they were right and the other side was wrong. But a court is unlikely to provide that sort of satisfaction, as judges often split the difference in what spouses want.
"They go in with the feeling of revenge," said Carl Soranno, chair of the family law practice at New Jersey law firm Brach Eichler. "Their lawyer is their champion. They love putting together 50-page certifications of all the bad things their spouse did -- until about six months in, when you've spent your 401(k) or your child's college fund." This desire to prove yourself right can overwhelm common sense, turning even the smallest aspects of dispute into grinding battles; couples may jointly spend $2,500 in legal fees to argue over which parent should pay for a kid's $100 pair of sneakers, rather than ponying up $50 each and avoiding the waste of time and money.
Divorce should be about the future, not the past. "What you're really doing is cementing or obtaining the resources you need to move on with the rest of your life under a new context," Soranno said. If you and your spouse have a hard time recognizing this fact, talk to a counselor, who will be more useful and charge less than your lawyer.
You wouldn't go for surgery without doing research into what it entailed, the potential dangers, how long you'd likely be incapacitated, and other factors that could affect your future. Don't blindly plunge forward into divorce. The process can vary significantly by state. Get on the Web or into the library and find out what you'll need to accomplish and consider. The more you know, the more intelligently you can get what you need from professionals without wasting time. Share your research with your spouse. The more prepared you are, the less time and money the process will take.
Lawyers may know the law, but they aren't necessarily good with numbers, and a large part of divorce is about numbers. Big ones. How a divorce proceeds and the decisions the couple makes will affect both of them going forward.
"The knee-jerk reaction to hire an attorney [first] is like hiring a dentist instead of hiring a dermatologist," said Pam Friedman, a certified financial planner, certified divorce financial analyst and founding partner of Divorce Planning of Austin in Texas. "It's starting the wrong conversation with the wrong person." Planners can:
Help in negotiations.
Create balance sheets and income and expense reports to use post-divorce.
Explain the need for new wills and insurance beneficiaries and the potential tax implications of dividing or disposing of assets.
Help investigate credit implications for each party and other financial options, like renting a new home instead of buying one.
One costly aspect of a divorce is the time-consuming process of pulling together the necessary paperwork, financial or otherwise. A lawyer and the discovery process in court together make an expensive filing clerk. Your previous research and work with a financial planner will help bring together much of what you need. An attorney should have a list of what else you'll have to provide. For example, Philadelphia divorce lawyer Jason Martin offers a divorce worksheet on his website for Pennsylvania couples. Bring everything you will need to provide when seeing a lawyer so he or she can work efficiently.
Even with preparation, it can be easy to react emotionally and undermine your best interests. Michele Lowrance, a former divorce judge who is now a mediator, suggests taking a risk management approach to divorce. "Let's say you're seeking to get $100,000 out of a piece of real estate," said Lowrance, co-author of “The New Love Deal: Everything You Must Know Before Marrying, Moving In, or Moving On!” "The worst case scenario would be $50,000. Would you [hold out for the full $100,000] if it was going to cost you $60,000 and another year out of your life to get it?"
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Early on, write down everything you would ideally want, such keeping control of your pension or having custody or specifying visitation. Have your lawyer color-code each. Green means something you can probably get. Orange would be something you could ask for that you wouldn't necessarily get and that would cost some money to fight for, whether successfully or not. Red is for items you probably cannot get through a court, "like he can't see his girlfriend," Lowrance said. Your list acts as an "organizing principle."
Lawyers are good at billing for their time, often in six-minute segments. Every time you call or write a lawyer, the billing clock starts ticking. Shari-Lynn Cuomo Shore, of the Connecticut law firm Wolf & Shore, tells clients to email instead of calling, include multiple questions in a single email, and keep a journal of concerns. "This cuts down on repetitive or unnecessary communication and requires us to bill [clients] less on their matter," she said.
Similarly, don't use the lawyer as a proxy to speak with your spouse if you can avoid it, suggested Matthew Reischer, a lawyer and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. If you must have someone be a go-between, consider some other trusted third party.
There is a natural temptation to ignore all of this advice, to assume that your case is the one that will be different. And it could be. However, given the common issues faced by divorcing couples in this country, the odds that your case will be the exception to the rule are mighty slim. You could keep investing in the possibility, but you're better off making the best of an unpleasant situation and moving forward with your life, rather than realizing months after the fact that you made one massively expensive mistake.