It’s a tough spot to be in. You know, or you’re reasonably sure, that the right move is to leave your Massachusetts marriage, but you don’t have any money.
That doesn’t mean you’re stuck. In this article, we’ll talk about ways to prepare financially for the divorce. We can’t promise it’s going to be smooth sailing — divorces almost certainly aren’t — but we have some ideas that could help.
Consult an attorney
Divorce attorneys are often the most expensive part of the divorce process, as the average hourly rate for a lawyer is $270, according to a survey by legal publisher Nolo. However, there are ways to get legal help that mitigate the fees associated with a lawyer. For example, you could look for a legal aid center that services your area. Its mission is to provide civil legal aid to low-income families across the country.
You could also find attorneys that do pro bono work. Pro bono lawyers agree to take your case for free or for a reduced rate. You can find pro bono lawyers by looking online or on the American Bar Association website.
Tip: Many attorneys also offer free consultations, which gives you an opportunity to receive much-needed legal advice.
Mediation is a great way to avoid the costs of a lawyer. A mediator helps you work out the details of your divorce. They facilitate conversations about splitting assets, deciding child care agreements, and who takes on what debt from a marriage.
When everything is accounted for, a mediator will draw up a divorce agreement for both parties to sign. Divorce documents put together by a mediator have a higher compliance rate because both spouses have agency when deciding on the agreement. In other words, both parties are more likely to follow the divorce agreement because they both fully participated in putting it together.
Tip: Private mediation can be almost as expensive as hiring a lawyer. To save money, look for community-based or court-based low-cost mediation.
Consider a side hustle
When you’re trying to leave a marriage with no money, it could be helpful to start a side hustle or get a part-time job. Side hustles are a great way to make some extra cash and pay for the divorce. If you’re the partner who’s moving out, it could help fund moving expenses, apartment living, and other financial burdens you might encounter throughout the divorce process.
Just keep in mind that the extra income will have to be taken into account when the court is deciding on alimony and child support.
Tip: Even a short-term gig like seasonal work could be helpful.
Open a separate bank account
You’ll want to put the money you’re earning into a separate checking or savings account that only you have access to. This keeps your money safe from your spouse in case things go sideways in the divorce. It also gets you a jumpstart on separating yourself from your spouse. You could redirect your work direct deposits into this account as well. It’s hard to financially disentangle yourself from your spouse, but this is a great first step.
Opening a bank account is especially important if you’re leaving an abusive relationship. You don’t want your former partner withholding funds from you as a way of financial abuse as you’re trying to leave a difficult situation.
Tip: Be sure account statements are being sent to a safe address or P.O. box.
Keep things civil, if possible
Another way to keep divorce costs low is by keeping things civil. This allows you to separate amicably and save money by paying lawyers less and staying out of the divorce courts more. It also helps keep the animosity down. Animosity breeds spite, and you don’t want your spouse taking it out by trying to ask for more in the courtrooms.
Tip: If you’re in a situation where domestic abuse is occurring, an amicable split will likely not be possible. Your safety is more important than saving money. Keep contact to a minimum and communicate through your legal representative.
Ask for help
When you’re leaving a marriage with no money, it’s important to reach out for help. Friends and family members could keep a lookout for deals on furniture for your new apartment, offer child care while you go to the courthouse for divorce proceedings, help you move out, and more.
Your community is your best asset when it comes to an affordable divorce. Before shopping for things to set up your new household, check with charitable groups or religious organizations in your area. These groups are established to help people in your situation, and they want to make sure you have everything you need.
If you’re afraid for your safety during the divorce, your local domestic violence shelter is ready to take you in with open arms. Reach out to get the support you need during this challenging time.
Tip: Be cautious about what you post on social media, even if it’s just asking for help. Anything you post could come up during divorce proceedings.
Consider low-cost therapy
Therapy is an excellent way to let go, decompress, and sort out how you feel about a situation. It could also help you process the complicated emotions that arise during a divorce and help boost your self-esteem.
However, therapy can be expensive. Check with your health insurance to see whether it has a low-cost therapy option. Many insurers cover mental health services for a copay or coinsurance. If your insurance won’t cover therapy, check with the universities and nonprofits in your area. They may have sliding scale options.
There are also many telehealth apps that are relatively inexpensive ways to get the help you need. Talkspace, BetterHelp, and Larkr are some of the more popular platforms. Although they’re typically more expensive than using your insurance, they may be cheaper than finding an in-person therapist to help you through this situation. Using technology to your advantage allows you to get the mental health support you need at a cost that’s affordable.
Tip: You may also be able to find support groups online or in person.
Gather financial information
It’s important to have a complete financial picture when you get divorced. Even if you don’t have many assets, collecting the information in one place gives you the ability to make solid financial decisions regarding your divorce.
This information allows your mediator or attorney to help split assets and debt equitably so one partner isn’t burdened unnecessarily. For example, if you’ve supported your spouse by caring for children while they worked, you may be entitled to financial support (also known as alimony).
Here is information you’ll want to collect to prepare for a divorce:
- Three most recent employment paystubs for each party
- Monthly bank statements from all accounts from the past three years
- Utility bills from the past three months
- Income tax returns for the past three to five years, both business and personal
- Any W-2 statements for both parties from the last three to five years
- Any investment accounts, including retirement accounts for both parties
- If applicable, Social Security statements for both parties
- Any statements for debts such as credit cards, car loans, mortgage statements, student loans, and outstanding medical bills
Tip: If you can’t secure copies, take pictures of the documents with your phone.
Open a P.O. box
Opening a P.O. box is fairly straightforward and inexpensive. Having a P.O. box is important because it allows your mail to be delivered directly to you. You don’t want your ex to have access to your information.
Once it’s set up, notify your accounts that your address has changed. If you don’t open a P.O. box, you could miss important information, such as bills and letters from your attorney. It’s definitely worth the money to open one if you can manage it.
Tip: Opening a P.O. box helps to protect your privacy.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.