In California, there are a few options to get divorced. In nearly every case, you must go to court and have a judge approve your divorce case. To cut costs on your divorce, you may be able to file your case yourself – but doing so opens you to potential problems and later expenses if you make quick decisions without understanding their legal effects. The Ventura divorce attorneys at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth discuss your options for divorce and why working with an attorney may be better than taking the “cheap” route of filing your divorce case yourself.
Is it Cheaper to File for Divorce Without a Lawyer?
Paying a lawyer may seem like an unnecessary expense in your divorce case. Many people see that divorce requires forms to file with the court and think that they can handle the paperwork and file their divorce case on their own without a lawyer (known as filing “pro se”). While this may save you money if your only costs to file pro se are the cost filing fee and cost of serving your spouse with the paperwork. Ultimately, this option might not be as cheap and easy as you think.
Filing for divorce has a few important steps:
- Filling out paperwork
- Serving your spouse with divorce papers
- Negotiating terms of the divorce (for uncontested divorces)
- Listing your finances, assets, and debts in full
- Appearing in court to finalize the divorce
- Participating in hearings and legal arguments as needed (common in a contested divorce)
When you handle these issues on your own, you might only pay out of pocket for the filing and service. However, this means that you will have no help listing your finances, negotiating what assets you will keep, or determining alimony. To make matters more complex, you will also have to negotiate and argue child custody and support decisions on your own.
Many people, even attorneys, hire a divorce lawyer to handle these aspects on their behalf. These issues are complicated, and making any errors could lose you money, result in paying spousal support payments, and even cost you custody of your children. At the worst, you could even be accused of fraud for failing to divulge assets or trying to hide finances from your spouse.
Hiring an attorney may increase the cost, but it also makes these steps infinitely easier and gives you someone with the training and experience to advocate for your rights and protect your finances.
The Cost of Divorce in California
Every divorce case has a filing fee. In California, this fee is usually between $400 and $500 but may vary depending on the county you are filing in. Generally, both parties need to pay this fee, since the petitioner pays when they file and the respondent also pays when they file their response. However, there are ways to avoid this cost – at least for one of you.
Many divorce proceedings give spouses options for dividing the costs. The cost of paying for a lawyer may be a large expense, especially for a spouse who does not work or has low individual finances. Because of this, you may be able to have your divorce costs and attorney’s fees paid for in two ways: through an agreement or through alimony pendente lite.
To initially file your case, you may need to pay money out of pocket to cover the filing fee. However, you may be able to include the cost of the filing fee and attorneys fees as part of your agreement, asking your spouse to cover the costs. Especially if you have no personal finances to pay for a lawyer (i.e., if you are a stay-at-home spouse), your spouse may be in a better place to cover the costs. If you have shared finances in one account or one pool, it would make sense for this pool to pay for both spouse’s filing fees and legal fees, so this kind of arrangement is common in many cases.
If your spouse controls the finances and you do not think you will be able to afford the costs without help, the court may be able to step in to order your spouse to pay for your costs. This is often accomplished through orders for alimony pendente lite. Alimony is spousal support paid after the divorce is finalized, but you can also apply for alimony pendente lite while the case is pending to cover legal fees, housing, and other support costs while you wait for the divorce to be finalized.
Talk to an attorney about how to structure your payments and how to fight to include legal costs as part of your divorce case. In some cases, you may end up having a substantial portion of your costs covered as part of the deal or part of a court order. However, this is not guaranteed in any case, and you should discuss your options with your lawyer. Our attorneys offer free legal consultations where these kinds of questions can be answered before you accept any legal services from us.
Call Our Ventura Divorce Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation
If you are considering filing for divorce but are concerned about the cost, set up a free legal consultation with our Ventura family law attorneys today. Our lawyers can help you understand the potential costs you may have to pay and what options you have to pay these fees as part of a divorce agreement or through spousal support payments. For a free legal consultation, call the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today at (805) 585-5056.