Ending a marriage is always difficult. Regardless of whether it’s the right move, the situation is emotionally charged. Then, when you factor in the cost, the hardship seems to multiply. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the expense. By going with one of the affordable alternatives to traditional divorce, you can pay far less and may not have to spend anything at all. If you’re trying to figure out how to get a free divorce (or at least a low-cost one), here are some options to explore.
Research Divorce Fee Waivers
For civil court proceedings like divorces, counties typically have a fee waiver program available. This option targets lower-income households and aims to make civil court filings and associated fees affordable (and potentially free) for individuals who don’t have the money available to cover the cost.
Usually, whether a person qualifies for a fee waiver is based on their family size and household income. In most cases, the cutoff is a specific percentage above the Federal Poverty Standard, and the Federal Poverty Standard varies depending on the number of people within the household. If you want to see if you qualify, you can typically find information about the program on a county agency website.
Get a Settlement Agreement in Place
When it comes to divorce proceedings, uncontested divorces are generally less expensive than contested ones. If you and your soon-to-be former spouse both believe that a divorce is wise and agree on the distribution of marital assets, getting a settlement agreement in place before filing for divorce can help.
Divorce settlement agreements – also referred to as property settlement agreements or marital settlement agreements – are formal documents that outline how property, assets, and debts will be split between the two parties. In some cases, people can handle these on their own, or they may be able to use a lower-cost mediation service over a lawyer to get one in place. Doing so, can streamline the divorce filing and any subsequent processes, keeping the total cost minimal.
Do a DIY Divorce Filing
One of the least expensive options available for divorce is a do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce filing. With this, you’ll prepare the paperwork yourself instead of hiring an attorney to do it for you, and that can result in significant savings.
In many cases, the required forms are available online, so your only cost would involve printing the paperwork. Your local court clerk’s office may also have divorce packets available with the needed documents, either for free or for a very low fee.
A similar option that costs a bit more but is still far less expensive than hiring a lawyer is to use an online divorce service. Through the website, you’ll get walked through the completion of any required forms, which makes the process easier.
Check for Simplified Divorce Options
Many states and counties offer simplified divorces, and they’re often less expensive than a more traditional proceeding. These are available to couples who agree the divorce is uncontested and when there isn’t any property that needs dividing, and there are no shared dependent children.
Often, getting a simplified divorce isn’t unlike working through the settlement agreement process. It results in a far more streamlined procedure as the court doesn’t have to make major decisions. In turn, the total cost is less.
Try Divorce Mediation
If you’re facing a contested divorce, divorce mediation is a lower-cost option that is worth exploring. With mediation, a trained and neutral mediator works with both spouses to negotiate solutions to any disagreements.
The goal is to ultimately create a settlement agreement in advance, but the process accommodates situations where negotiating is necessary. It’s a financially beneficial option since working with a mediator is potentially far less expensive than having the disagreements addressed in court.
Find Pro Bono or Volunteer Lawyers
Low-income households may have access to free or reduced-cost legal services through nonprofit organizations in their area. As a result, even a contested divorce is far less expensive as you don’t have to pay for an attorney.
With this approach, you can get assistance with the entire process, including any required filings and court appearances. If you want to explore this option, look for legal aid organizations in your area.
Consider an Annulment
Marriage annulments are far less expensive than traditional divorces, but they aren’t available to everyone. Generally, an annulment declares that the marriage was invalid, and since that’s the case, conditions must be met. For example, if one spouse was not in a condition or position to properly consent – such as by being intoxicated when the wedding took place – then getting an annulment may be an option.
The rules of annulments can vary by state. As a result, you’ll need to look at the requirements in your area to determine if it’s an option.
Do you know of any other options that can help people figure out how to get a free divorce or a low-cost divorce? Have you used any of the traditional divorce alternatives above and want to tell others about your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for numerous financial websites.