By Tim McLaughlin
BOSTON Jan 9 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 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,
Massachusetts, 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
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
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