Stuck in a Marriage? 5 Signs You Can’t Afford to Get a Divorce

man and woman facing opposite to each other
You might not be able to afford the divorce you want |

You thought your wedding would lead to marital bliss, but unfortunately sometimes that’s not always the case. Whether it’s because of budget woes, relationship issues, or another problem, you might be seriously thinking about filing for divorce. But although there are ways to protect your money when you decide to cut ties with your spouse, it might not mean that you can afford it in the first place.
Divorce and finances are often deeply connected, even if money isn’t the main reason you choose to go separate ways. In recent years, that’s become clear as people want to divorce but can’t afford to make it official. NPR reports that for every 1% increase in unemployment, the divorce rate decreases by 1% – an indication that limited means drastically affects a couple’s ability to legally divorce.
So how much does a divorce actually cost? That will depend on a number of factors, including where you live and the attorney fees you’re willing (or required) to pay. One 2013 report from The Huffington Post cited a range between $15,000 and $20,000 from start to finish. “Basically it costs as much to get unmarried as it does to get married,” Bruce Cameron, a lawyer with Cameron Law LLC in Minnesota, told the publication.
A number of factors and costs are rolled into that daunting figure, and all of them can affect whether you can choose to file divorce papers – or if you’ll be forced to separate but technically remain married because of the costs. Take a look at some of the reasons you might not be able to get divorced.

1. Lawyer fees are too high

Law concept statue
Lawyer costs can be sky-high |

There’s no question your attorney fees will be some of the highest you pay during divorce proceedings, if you decide to go forward with it. According to Nolo, a legal resource website, people will pay about $12,800 to their attorneys for a typical divorce costing a total of about $15,500. That’s roughly 83% of the total cost of your divorce, right there.
Nolo also found that the typical fee for divorce lawyers around the country is about $250 per hour, covering all types of representation. In some cases your lawyer will handle the process every step of the way, which will obviously be more labor-intensive and costly to you. In other cases, the lawyer simply helps to file some legal paperwork or consults with you about documents you’re choosing to fill out on your own.
Of course, there are ways to save money during a divorce. If you’re able to use a mediator or can come to a separation agreement on your own without lawyers present, you’re likely to save money.

2. The filing paperwork has a high price tag

Files and a cup of coffee
Paperwork fees can be hundreds of dollars alone |

Divorce paper filings will vary by location, especially when it comes to the price you’ll pay to submit them. Massachusetts, for example, estimates it will cost about $250 to file the initial paperwork and serve the papers to your spouse. Residents in Chicago will pay almost $500, while those in New York with an uncontested divorce will still be looking at costs of at least $335.
Of course, this paperwork is the type of thing you want to have correct, so you’re likely also going to be paying a lawyer his or her hourly rate to at least look over it for you, if not complete it on your behalf.
If you’re trying to decide whether you can afford a divorce in the first place, look up your state’s requirements and associated costs. Most states, like California, will have a FAQ section that should be able to help you answer most of your questions.
It might seem odd to budget or save for a divorce, but if you’re already tight on cash and desperate to end your relationship, that might be what it takes. Most Americans don’t have a spare $500 to cover a surprise medical bill or car repair, which means it might also be difficult to come up with the necessary cash on the spot for divorce proceedings. If you’re serious about filing the paperwork, you might want to think about saving money to do so.

3. Your divorce could be highly contested

Two bears fighting in woods
If you fight over ever dollar, it’ll cost you more of them |

If you and your spouse are amicably cutting ties, you might be able to use a mediator or settle your divorce without too much fuss – or money. But if you plan to fight for every dollar you believe you’re owed, plan on simply putting that extra cash in your lawyer’s pocket.
For one, your lawyer and his hourly rate will likely need to work longer hours, sorting out the agreement and counterarguments with your spouse and their attorney. “Generally, the more things you and your spouse can agree on, the lower your fees will be,” advises the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
Even though you might feel wronged by your ex, divorce proceedings aren’t the time to try to make them pay up. In fact, that tactic will likely cost your wallet more in the end. The more you can stay out of court, the better. “Watch for ways to settle issues. Don’t insist on fighting to the last drop of blood over small issues, or for a supposed principle,” the academy adds.
Nolo found that the average divorce takes about 11 months to complete. If you go to trial for any reason, that time frame jumps to a little over 17 months. Those who went to trial for any issue often ended up paying about $19,600 for the entire divorce, while couples who were able to settle everything paid around $14,500.

4. You can’t afford child support

a child holding an adult's hand
Child support fees can also be daunting |

If you have children, it’s possible a judge will also require you to make child support payments to your spouse. This will ultimately depend on how many children you have, the income of you and your spouse, who will be responsible for raising them, and a myriad of other factors.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average child support payment is about $5,774 annually, or about $481 per month. That’s a lot to add into your budget, especially since you’re going back to a single income and are looking at sorting out the rest of your bills at the same time.
If you’re looking to get an estimate of what you might be required to pay, check out the information for your state. You don’t want to be evicted or have the power shut off if you miss late payments on most bills, but realize that if you consistently don’t pay child support, you risk going to jail. Make sure you’re prepared for the financial cost ahead of time to avoid that possibility altogether.

5. You can’t afford to move out

Renting or buying a new place can be costly | PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

If you’ve been thinking about getting a divorce for a while, the idea of having your own apartment or house probably sounds incredibly inviting. But just as child support and lawyer fees can stack up quickly, so can the fees that come with purchasing or renting a new place.
Renting an apartment is a steep and growing cost in many areas across the United States, and home ownership is becoming a distant dream for many people – even if they’re doing everything they can to save. Plus, you’ll only have your monthly income to put toward it, and you might be in the process of figuring out your credit – and working to mend it if the divorce negatively affects your payment history, or you don’t have much of a credit profile separate from your spouse. If that’s the case, you could also run into problems securing a lease or getting a reasonable interest rate on a mortgage.
If you’re going to keep your current home, it might also be tricky to afford the existing monthly payments on your income alone. It’s likely that you and your spouse factored in the mortgage cost for a budget with two incomes; now you’ll need to make that same bill with a smaller, single income.
You probably don’t want to stay under the same roof as your ex, but in some cases it might be required until you can put a game plan in place to afford moving in separate directions.

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