Divorces can be messy and expensive—but what if they don’t have to be?
It’s not for everyone, but it turns out there is a cost-effective way of splitting from your spouse. It all depends on your situation and how amicable your relationship is during your split.
If you and your ex can agree on separation terms, file for divorce online, and sell your stuff in a divorce sale before going to court, you’ll be able to save a pretty penny or two.
What’s the least expensive way to get divorced?
Avoiding a lengthy legal battle is the best way to save money during a divorce.
While this isn’t always possible, spouses who agree on separation terms will spend less time with lawyers and in court (thus, saving thousands of dollars in legal fees). If you can’t agree on your own, it’s probably worth finding a mediator to help you reach a consensus. Mediators are far more affordable than back-and-forth meetings between lawyers.
If it helps, you can view the end of your marriage as if it were the end of a business partnership. Set your emotions aside and review your shared assets, debts, and responsibilities.
Can you both agree on a fair way of dividing these things?
How can you both come out of this relationship with your feet still on the ground?
You may want some assets to stay with one spouse or the other—especially if you’re getting divorced while you still have dependent children. For instance, the parent with child custody may want to keep the family home. (In this case, you’ll need to compensate the other partner fairly for their share of the property.)
Or, you may decide to sell your assets in a divorce sale and re-build each of your lives with the money you earn (more on this later).
In any case, it helps to draft a Separation Agreement with your ex-partner. A Separation Agreement is often the first step toward a divorce. You can even bring this document to court to streamline the divorce settlement process.
To save money, try customizing a Separation Agreement template online yourself before bringing it to a lawyer for review. A template will walk you through the terms that may apply to you. This helps ensure you don’t overlook any assets, responsibilities, or legal obligations when writing an agreement without a lawyer.
You can also use your Separation Agreement to inform your decisions when filing for a divorce online. This way, you’ll save money by generating the appropriate documents online before finalizing your divorce in court.
How do divorce settlements work?
A divorce settlement is an agreement that aims to distribute marital property and responsibilities between spouses fairly. A judge may decide the terms of a divorce settlement in court, or you and your spouse may agree to terms that a judge later reviews and approves.
For example, you may write a Separation Agreement that gives one spouse ownership of the family home while the other gets compensated for their share. However, a judge will only enforce these terms if they’re fair and attainable.
If one spouse can’t qualify for the mortgage on their own, or can’t pay the other spouse the equalization payment, a judge may order them to sell the house. On the other hand, a judge may grant them a reasonable amount of time to secure financing so that they can execute their Separation Agreement as desired.
Needless to say, judges will look at multiple factors when ruling on a divorce settlement. This can include each spouse’s financial resources, the length of their marriage, relationships with children, and more. State laws also govern the division of marital property differently, and these laws impact the judge’s decision.
That’s why it’s important for each spouse to bring the Separation Agreement to their lawyers for an independent review. This helps ensure the terms you agreed on will hold up in court.
In most cases, the terms of a divorce settlement are final and legally binding. Although it may be possible for one person to contest the settlement (if they believe the agreement is invalid or unjust), it’s often difficult and costly to convince a judge to reopen and overturn the case.
Should we sell our assets before or after we get divorced?
As mentioned, it’s important to know your state laws on marital property division before you consider selling assets before, during, or after a divorce.
In general, states adopt one of two methods for property division:
- Community property: Any assets or income gained during the marriage is considered marital property, and both spouses share equal ownership rights. Currently, there are nine community property states: Washington, Idaho, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin.
- Equitable distribution: Courts will evaluate assets or income and decide whether it’s separate or marital property. People generally gain separate property before or after marriage; or, they may get it as a gift or inheritance. Typically anything the couple gains during their marriage is marital property. Courts determine how to divide this property fairly (which may be 50/50 or not, depending on the circumstances).
As such, if you’re planning to sell high-valued assets like cars, stocks, businesses, or real estate, you should first determine if it’s shared or separate property.
Even if one spouse holds the legal title of ownership, the other spouse may have a claim to the property. This is likely to be the case if they bought the house during their marriage and both spouses contributed to paying for it. Equitable distribution states will also consider other factors such as each spouse’s:
- Contribution to the marriage
- Capacity to earn income
- Standard of living
However if you signed a Prenuptial Agreement before your marriage to establish separate property, your spouse typically won’t be able to object if you want to sell your property before getting divorced.
Otherwise, unless you and your spouse agree on what to do with these assets, it may be best to wait until after you conclude your divorce proceedings. If you try to sell something that is (or is determined to be) marital property without your ex-spouse’s consent, you may face repercussions in court.
For one, your spouse will likely be entitled to a portion of the profits. What’s more, if you sell the property for less than market value, a court may add the outstanding value when determining equitable distribution.
It’s also important to note that courts typically prohibit the sale of any marital property once you file your divorce papers. Breaching this court order can result in steep legal penalties.
What is a divorce sale?
A divorce sale is a way for couples to sell their shared assets and split the profit instead of trying to figure out who gets what. Sometimes this is easier than negotiating how to divide jointly-owned assets like a business or real estate.
But, it’s not always easy. Divorcing couples might argue about the value of an item or who to sell the item to. This might slow down the time it takes to sell marital property, which can also delay divorce proceedings.
Still, it may be easier to move on once you’ve cleared your space of mementos from the relationship. For example, wedding rings are often sold in divorce sales.
Other possessions commonly sold before a divorce can include everything from furniture, appliances, art, paintings, jewelry, and more. In addition to selling your property in garage sales, yard sales, or online, you can list items for auction to increase your chances of making a profit—as the movie star Russell Crowe famously did in his auction titled “The Art of Divorce”.
If the two spouses can agree on the terms of a sale, they may be able to speed up the divorce process when it comes to property distribution. Plus, they’ll have additional funds to cover their legal fees and start building their new life immediately after the divorce.
How to save money when spouses separate
The key takeaway when it comes to an inexpensive separation or divorce: try to agree with your ex-spouse about the terms of your split.
The reality is that neither party will get exactly what they want in a divorce. You’ll both have to compromise and work with each other to find some middle ground. Sometimes that means going through alternative dispute resolution.
In the end, you’ll save more money if you spend less time arguing, talking between lawyers, and going to court. So, keep in mind our top tips for cutting costs when separating from your spouse:
- Compromise or use a mediator to avoid lengthy meetings with lawyers
- Create your Separation Agreement or divorce papers online
- Sell assets and property in a divorce sale when the time is right for you