What Kind of Divorce Are You Buying?

Divorce is a product. It might not be a physical item like a car, but just like a car, there is a wide range of options available to you, at a wide range of prices.

The Low End: DIY

In Massachusetts, you can get divorced for $215. That's the cost of filing a Joint Petition for Divorce. If your income is below a certain threshold, you might even be able to get that waived. This assumes not only that you are able to reach full agreement on all the terms of your separation agreement, but also that you're able to write the agreement in a way that will (1) be approved by the Probate and Family Court and (2) stand the test of time, through changes in income, work and school schedules, unanticipated expenses, etc. You might consider getting a free or inexpensive separation agreement on a forms website like Rocket Lawyer. In my experience, you get what you pay for. I have spent more time (and thus client money) repairing the flaws in online forms than it would have taken me to draft the document myself, using my own templates that I've developed over the course of my legal career. For my clients' sake, I no longer offer that kind of service.

The High End: A-List Divorce Litigation

You can get divorced for $500,000. That's not an exaggeration. Go find the most expensive divorce attorneys in Boston and ask them to take your case all the way through trial. You can easily run up legal bills of $250,000 or more — each. When you're not happy with the result, take the case up on appeal, for tens of thousands more — again, each.

The Vast Middle Ground

Between DIY divorce and high-end divorce litigation, there are many, many options. If your divorce is very simple (no children and no property to be divided), you might be able to find an attorney who will charge a low flat rate. However, if your divorce is anything more complicated, chances are you will be paying an attorney an hourly rate. Even if you want to use mediation, having an attorney with whom you consult throughout the process is highly recommended.

For any professional you hire at an hourly rate, you want to know that the time will be well spent. When you interview an attorney, ask them what their general approach is. Do they start by filing a complaint for divorce, or do they explore options for reaching a negotiated settlement first? Does the attorney encourage face-to-face settlement conferences, to help avoid costly misunderstandings about important issues? Would they support you in resolving your divorce through mediation? More and more attorneys in Massachusetts are offering Collaborative Divorce — is that an option in your case?

There are many different types of divorce attorneys, and no single approach is best for every divorce. Just as every marriage is different, so is every divorce. Be an informed consumer. Know what you're buying.