Much has been reported in the press about couples staying together because they cannot afford a divorce. Often times, with little or negative equity in the house and mounting debts, the prospect of paying large lawyer’s fees for a divorce is an unacceptable one for unhappy couples who would prefer to separate if they could or who are separated but wish to finalize the divorce. In this article I discuss how a person can work to keep divorce costs down.
The best way to keep the cost of a divorce down is to 1) understand the process and what the issues are, and 2) try to reach an agreement on all the issues that are outstanding. Coming to an agreement about issues with a spouse with whom you are separating is for many people a difficult thing. There are always extreme cases where one spouse will never be reasonable or agree to what is fair. The truth is that for many divorcing couples, no matter how contentious and bitter a separation may be at the beginning there is a middle ground that can be reached through negotiation by both parties. This negotiation may or may not require a lawyer.
Coming to a fair settlement
In complex cases involving property settlements, children, and homes it is advisable for people to find lawyers who are willing to have cases settled fairly, if at all possible. A fair settlement does not mean that you do not advocate for your rights in the process of reaching that settlement. It will involve you or your lawyer protecting your best interests and being prepared to go to court on major issues that cannot be resolved by any other means. The bottom-line, however, is that the more you can avoid contested court hearings–while still preserving your interests and the best interests of your children–the more money will remain for you and your spouse to be divided between you (and for the benefit of any children you might have). If a fair settlement is at all possible, its cost is far less than the cost of a court battle.
A finalized divorce, or Dissolution in the State of Washington, requires a number of different documents to be filed. If the parties reach a settlement, one document that could be filed at the party’s option is called a property settlement agreement or separation contract. This legally binding agreement deals with the property issues between the separating couple such as what happens to the home, cars, cash, and debts. It might also include provisions for spousal maintenance and an acknowledgement of child support and any Parenting Plan that is filed with the court.
The contract can be filed with the final divorce papers subject to court approval. If it is so approved the contract becomes part of the final dissolution decree or judgment and is enforceable by the court if one party were to later breach the contract. A court will generally approve a separation contract if it fulfills three requirements:
- Both parties had full disclosure of all the assets and liabilities that were at stake;
- Each party had the opportunity to consult an independent attorney, and;
- The agreement was entered into in good faith.
Agreements sometimes seem difficult to reach between separating couples. But if both parties can make good faith efforts an agreement is the best way to keep divorce costs down.