BOSTON - When my wife and I decided to get divorced, the last thing we wanted was a financial crisis.
We’re divorced now, and the dust has settled. We had acrimony and some serious bouts of tension, but we didn’t wreck each other’s personal finances with out-of-control legal fees and other costs.
I spent about $1,500 US on legal and mediation fees, and while my former wife spent more on our uncontested divorce, it still was a manageable amount.
An average divorce can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, according to bankrate.com and other websites. If you go to trial, the sky is the limit.
We could have done worse. News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch divorced his second wife of 31 years, Anna, with a $1.7 billion settlement in 1999. Another divorce settlement is on the way for his third wife.
Here’s how we kept our costs contained:
To be sure, attorneys are valuable in hammering out a divorce agreement, but we didn’t run out and hire lawyers right away. On a friend’s recommendation, we met with a mediator, talked about the finances of running two households and worked out a parenting plan for our daughter. This later became the basis for our custody agreement.
We paid $180 an hour for each mediation session. Divorce attorneys in the Boston area typically charge $250 to $350 an hour for similar work. These fees vary throughout the United States and can be much higher for both mediators and attorneys.
Parenting plans for custody schedules and vacations can be pretty formulaic. You might even get a template of one from a friend who has already gone through divorce. That could save even more time and money.
Our big savings came from hashing out the general division of our major assets by ourselves. Meanwhile, I lived in a one-room apartment that cost $750 per month in Woburn, Mass., 20 miles away from the marital home.
I got frugal, too. It was my year in the woods, fortified by reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, given to me by a wry, but good friend.
Our big debate centered on what to do with the house. We didn’t want to sell it because it would be disruptive to our daughter’s connection to school and friends. After we agreed on the value of the home, my former wife ultimately refinanced the mortgage. Her mortgage is more than our previous one because she agreed to pay me my share of the equity in the home.
This was a painstaking process that took several months to get squared away. But we weren’t saddled with the pressure of getting something done quickly because of mounting legal fees.
Child support was another big issue. In Massachusetts, the divorce court uses a formula that is largely based on the income of husband and wife, and who has primary physical custody of the children. You plug in the numbers and the formula spits out the monthly child support figure. There is room for negotiation, but the judge will have to be satisfied with the result.
We didn’t have any credit card debt, and we readily agreed we would pay for the respective loans on our cars.
Our incomes were near parity, but my former wife had more in her retirement accounts and an individual checking account she had kept throughout our marriage.
I wanted some money from her retirement and her checking accounts, to help re-establish myself and to offset some of the money I wouldn’t be able to set aside for my own 401(k). I didn’t get everything I wanted, but the difference wasn’t so much that I thought it would be worth battling in court with lawyers involved.
During this process, we each consulted with our respective attorneys. I paid $300 to an attorney, recommended by a friend, who did a good job of laying out the parameters of what a divorce agreement might look like.
My wife spent more on her lawyer because she had the initial divorce agreement drawn up. After receiving the first draft, I admittedly was pretty apoplectic because I thought it was lopsided and didn’t reflect any of the things that we had been discussing over several months.
But to my sainted former wife’s credit, she came around and the next draft was much more reasonable. After that, it didn’t take long to finalize the details. I then paid $500 to have an attorney review it. Only minor changes were made.
When we appeared before a judge in divorce court, we didn’t bring attorneys with us. We split the cost of the $230 filing fee.
The divorce hearing took about 10 minutes. Before we walked out of the courthouse, we gave each other a big hug.
Maintaining good relations seems wise, because for at least the next 10 years, we will be relying heavily on each other to run two separate households and support our daughter and all of her activities. It’s the crux and irony of any divorce with kids involved.