How Much Does a Divorce Cost? 10 Clever Ways to Get a Divorce When You Have No Money

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How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

Divorce is expensive. An uncontested divorce can cost between $200 and $600, depending upon your state’s filing fees. And a contested divorce can cost more than $30,000. The price of divorce is directly proportional to how much you fight with your soon-to-be-ex spouse.

Ideally, before you begin the divorce proceedings, you must have a plan to pay for the divorce costs. There are some tried-and-true options (e.g., paying out of pocket and selling assets) and other, newer ideas.

10 Ways to Get a Divorce When You Have No Money

1) Start with a Free Divorce Lawyer Consultation

Many divorce lawyers offer a free 30-minute or 60-minute consultation to review the details of your case. This consultation is your chance to get free advice from a divorce attorney before paying expensive hourly fees. You can also visit multiple attorneys to see which one may serve as the best fit for your case. One word of caution, though: the top-tier divorce attorneys in most cities charge for an initial consultation because they have a steady stream of clients.

2) Take Money from a Joint Account

If you have a joint account with your spouse, you are entitled to half of it. Therefore, when you start thinking about divorce, move your half of the assets to a separate account under your name only. You also need to be aware of any legal consequences this action may have in your respective state, so consult with your divorce attorney. Don’t allow your spouse to steal funds from your joint account, leaving you with no funds to pay for your divorce.

3) Open a Secret Bank Account

When you are contemplating a divorce, you should have a separate bank account which your spouse does not have access to. This account should only be under your name, preferably at a bank other than your normal one.

As soon as the divorce process starts, money starts to disappear. Your spouse can transfer funds or take away assets via a number of scenarios. However, you will need funds to pay for divorce expenses, including your attorney. You also have to pay for your everyday living expenses while the process is going on.

4) Ask Friends and Family for Help

If you go to your family or friends for help, they may be more comfortable if you structure it as a loan. To set up the repayment terms, you can find a template for a personal loan online. Then you will show your friends or family members that you are serious about paying them back.

5) Sell Unwanted Belongings

Look around your home for items you could sell. You may have electronics, art, collectibles, physical goods, old cars, and cameras. They could help you get enough money to cover some of your bills and regular expenses. But be careful when selling things; down the road, your spouse may ask you for reimbursement for any joint property.

6) Open a New Credit Card

If your credit is good, consider getting a new credit card. I do not advocate taking out a lot of debt, as it always comes back to haunt you later. However, it may be a viable option if you are struggling to cover divorce expenses — or even just groceries.

7) Borrow from Your Retirement and Investment Accounts

Rules vary greatly among retirement accounts, but some will allow you to borrow from them:

  • 401(k) plans - Some of these plans will allow you to borrow 20-50% of the plan’s value at a low interest rate.
  • IRAs - IRAs are more difficult to borrow against, so you may have to pay taxes and penalties. But if you have a short-term need, you can use a rollover to have access to tax-free funds. You will need to deposit the amount you took from a qualified IRA rollover account within 60 days.
  • Investment Accounts - You have the option of taking out a margin loan. These loans are complicated, so I do not necessarily advocate them unless you understand them in detail. Taking out loans without a good grasp of the terms could hurt you in the long run.

8) Get a Home Equity Line of Credit

With this option, you are borrowing against the value of your home, which must be worth more than you owe. This route requires a lot of approvals, including your spouse’s if their name is listed on the home.

9) Try Crowdfunding Your Divorce

Crowdfunding platforms have recently become more popular. They allow family, friends, and even strangers to donate to a cause or start a business. You can also utilize these platforms to help pay for the expenses of your divorce.

When it comes to divorce, there are three companies that focus on this particular service: Plumfund.com, DedicatingDollars.com, and FundedJustice.com. Set up your profile, and explain why you need the funds. Publish your profile. Then, send the profile link to your friends and family.

Letting people know you need help can be uncomfortable, but every dollar helps. Each of the platforms listed above has its own rules and fees. Be sure to do your homework about each one. Crowdfunding platforms dedicated to divorce can help you through this difficult time.

10) Make Your Spouse Pay for Divorce

There is an easy way to get your spouse to pay for a divorce, and of course, there is the hard way.  Perhaps your relationship is good, and the divorce was a mutual decision. If so, you can simply ask your spouse to cover the costs on your end and work out your own arrangements.  However, if your spouse is unwilling or it is a complicated divorce, then there are legal provisions that can assist you.

Almost every state has a provision for having the higher-earning spouse pay for the cost of the divorce.  The specific criteria will be different state to state, and the courts will judge on a case-by-case basis. But generally, they will want to know if you have access to money and an income—and if the other spouse can really afford to pay for the divorce.  A good attorney should know the state laws and have an idea about your specific situation.

If the court rules in your favor, you may qualify for what is called an advance on an equitable distribution.  In other words, if you are going to be owed alimony or child support, you can have an initial lump sum available to you to pay for the costs of the divorce.  However, you will have to pay those funds back over time via deductions on the payments you receive later.

Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA is the host of the “Divorce and Your Money Show” and Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, with offices in Dallas, New York and Hanover, New Hampshire.

Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA

Dallas, Texas

Shawn C. H. Leamon is Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, a firm that helps successful families manage large financial transitions like divorce, inheritance and selling a business.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth College, double majoring in Economics and Philosophy, and his Masters in Business Administration at Spain’s IE Business School.

Before founding LaGrande Global, Shawn helped manage $1.1 billion in client assets at Bernstein Global Wealth Management. He also worked as a credit research analyst at J.P. Morgan. He is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and he has been an advisor to numerous high-stakes divorce cases.

Shawn is the author of two well-received finance books: Managing Private Wealth: Principles, and Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide, both published in 2016.

In his spare time, Shawn is an ultra-endurance athlete and has competed in events as long as 24 hours. He is an Eagle Scout and a member of the Alumni Board of Greenhill School.