How to Beat the High Cost of Divorce

Tips on how to stay out of court and save cash during a divorce.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:20 AM

July 2, 2007 — -- Estimates suggest that 50 percent of all people who get married stay married.

Good for them. This is about the other half: the ones for whom the dream of till death do us part wind up in the reality of divorce.

A couple thinking of uncoupling these days faces a wide range of choices: from a full-blown litigated custody battle, to a mediated settlement, to a quick click on No Fault Divorce Online, a Web site that promises a fast and easy divorce for as little as $28.95.

So how do you choose the divorce that's right for you?

Clearly many couples will be lured by the promise of a cheap and painless digital divorce. And an online service might be the right choice if you've been married for a short time (less than two years) and don't have any children.

But proceed with caution.

"The key to the $29 divorce is two people communicating," said Ellen Zack, a family law attorney who practiced in Boston for 26 years, and is now a consultant "If you can sit down at your kitchen table and set aside your anger, fear, sadness and terror and say let's work this thing out, then maybe you can do it."

Unfortunately, that's hard for many couples, she says. "Most people don't communicate very well and when you're getting a divorce you don't want to sit down across from your spouse and talk. I used to say my job was one part lawyer, one part clergy person and 98 parts psychiatrist."

The online sites are generally document-preparation services. They don't offer legal advice or counsel and you must be in complete agreement with your spouse on all the issues. Fees range from less than the cost of a tank of gas to a couple of hundred dollars, but either way it's far less than the cost of hiring a lawyer.

The emotional cost of a divorce has been well documented. What hasn't been as openly discussed is the dollars-and-cents price tag attached to the average divorce. The simple fact is: It's expensive.

According to Gaetano Ferro, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a practicing lawyer in New Canaan, Conn., the middle class is feeling the squeeze: "It's very hard for the middle class to get divorced these days."