How Can I Afford to Get Divorced?

Forget about the celeb divorces – chances are, probably amongst your circle of friends, coworkers, or family you've heard a horror story about “how much divorce costs.” You may have heard six-figure payouts for attorney fees, let alone the costs of child support, alimony, securing a new place to live, and buying a new blender since the one you've been using for the past however many years has been shared.

Based on this, you naturally conclude…. “I can't afford to get divorced!!”

If you are thinking about getting divorced, there are probably already a million things on your mind. While we don't mean to minimize it, the cost of divorce really should not be the highest among them. It might be a consideration, but should not the primary one.

Think about when you went to buy your last car. At least by the time you got to the stage of actually shopping different car models, if not before, it was a given that you were going to get a car. Maybe your old one was on its last legs. Maybe you need it to drive to and from work and other general transportation needs. Maybe you just think driving is fun. Whatever the reason, you knew you would be getting a car.

Was your very first question at that point, what is it going to cost? While it may have been a consideration, it probably wasn't your first one. You probably had other criteria, whether it was more along the lines of what's its safety rating or how fast can it get from 0 to 60 or what colors does it come in or whatever else.

At any point during that process, did you doubt that you would be able to get any kind of car at all? Hopefully not. You probably never wondered, “how can I afford to be a car owner?”  And if you did, probably some guy from the car dealership's finance department you whisked you over to his cubicle, sat you down, and started explaining their various deals and how much you'd have to pay each month to get that car you want.

Statistically divorce (meaning legal fees of a divorce) in the US in the 2010s-2020s has cost on average around $20,000-$30,000. [It's neither here nor there, but this is less than most cars cost these days.] In our opinion, that is way too high and is a reflection of failings in the system - on multiple fronts.  Which is why at New Leaf Family, we have sought to rethink the process as much as we can within the confines of what the system still is.

Here are some of the main problems that we have observed in the traditional cost structure of divorce legal costs:

  1. Costs too much overall, unnecessarily.

  2. Unpredictable; costs way too much sporadically.

  3. Incentivizes the wrong things.

The reason why we say it costs too much overall, is that more often than not, parties are thrown into litigation without any real understanding of what they want. Lacking that initial, essential understanding then makes it impossible to know how the litigation process will play into getting them what they want, or what the outcome is (or should be). After spending much time and money, they then end up at a place they're not sure they wanted in the first place!  This helps to clarify why the conflict continues.

People come to a lawyer saying they want a divorce and the lawyer starts asking questions about how many kids there are and what visitation should be like and what the assets are, etc. Inwardly, if not obviously, the client becomes frozen, like a deer in headlights. The abdication of the process to the system begins.

Most divorce clients have never been through a process like that before and have no idea what they want. Right now, all they may know is that they just want out! They want not to get screwed by the other side. They want (in some vague sense) what won't screw the kids up too badly. Meanwhile, the other side plops down in front of a different lawyer and goes through the same, deficient process. Then the lawyersenter the boxing ring, the bell dings, and they're off – jabs, hooks, uppercuts, the whole nine yards.  They're not ignoring what the clients really want … they never learned it in the first place.  Because learning that means helping you, the client, to go deeper yourself, and truly communicate your hopes, dreams and desires for your future, and your family's.

By contrast, our philosophy is that if the parties can engage in some guided self-work from the start, so much of the back and forth, the fighting, the misunderstandings, the endless motions, and the general chaos of the “traditional” process can be avoided. Not every time, mind you. Some couples just can't take a breath and stop fighting. And maybe those folks do have to pay the big bucks, if they can't take responsibility for themselves long enough to figure out where they want to go. For the vast majority of people, however, simply going through the process of figuring out where they want to go, and not just what they want out of or away from, will decrease their legal bills significantly. (And improve their outcomes dramatically.)

Another problem is that most law firms' pricing is unpredictable. One month there's a flurry of activity by the lawyers (like discovery and motions and court appearances, etc.) and the bill mounts up to thousands of dollars. Then next month everybody's waiting on a court ruling, so nothing much has happened. The ups and downs of these bills can be mind boggling and stressful for many people.

This is why we have gone a non-traditional route, that is more closely aligned with our clients' interests. At New Leaf Family, we price our services on a predictable, recurring, monthly basis. Your bill is the same amount, every month, for the entirety of the phase of proceedings you're in. (One price pre-trial … another if your case goes to trial.) Just like your car payment or mortgage, you know how much you're going to have to pay. You can budget it. You can plan for it.

Traditionally most law firms bill on an hourly rate. The more hours that get billed, the more money the lawyers earn. And you know how to get the number of billable hours up? By fanning the flames of conflict. By making the fighting increase rather than decrease. By extending how long the case goes on (and on, and on…) rather than seeking to get it taken care of by the most efficient path, while still looking out for the clients' interests.

We believe in structuring the financial aspects of our offerings so that there is an inherent financial incentive – not disincentive – to assist our clients in the transitions they are going through. We intentionally do not structure our offerings so that prolonging your misery is what makes us more money.  We would much rather you pay our lower rates doing some of the preliminary self-work, then do the phase of the legal work as quickly as makes sense, then engage in the services that will help you transition from where you were to where you want to be.

Approaching the divorce process – or any major life transition for that matter – in a haphazard way, or abdicating all responsibility by flinging the problem onto a lawyer or anybody else, is something you cannot afford to do – whatever your tax bracket. Coming to your family-life change with maturity and the guidance of professionals who have gone through these transitions hundreds of times and can lend structure to help you figure things out for yourself, under a billing plan that aligns with values of resolution, you absolutely can afford it, if that's what you want to do.