Moving On: Divorce Help for Low-Income Families

Are you facing a difficult divorce? If so, there are countless hurdles to overcome both emotionally and financially.

The average divorce costs each person $15,000. This figure includes legal costs, court fees, and other logistics.

When dealing with the emotional turmoil of divorce, the last thing you want to worry about is paying for it, especially if money’s tight.

Here we’ll share resources and divorce help for low-income families so you can close one chapter and start the next without too much economic hardship.

Divorce Cost Breakdown

You might be wondering why getting divorced is so expensive.

The figure above ($15,000) is made up primarily of legal costs, with a few other line items added in. Here’s a simple breakdown of what you’ll pay to split from your spouse.

Filing Fees

The price to file for divorce varies from state to state but, on average, expect to pay between $300 and $500. Official paperwork is drawn up and delivered to your spouse, informing them that you want to legally separate.

Attorney Fees

Hiring an attorney to represent you during your divorce is the biggest expense you’ll face. A divorce attorney charges anywhere from $200 to $500 per hour for their services.

Amicable divorces where both parties agree on property division, child custody, and spousal support are often cheaper. The lawyer has much less legwork to do.

If you and your spouse are fighting over property and other issues like child support and visitation rights, things can quickly get complicated and expensive. 

Court Costs

During a divorce, court costs average around $1,600. This includes the cost of any real estate appraisers, tax experts, and other professionals involved in the division of property and other financial matters.

If you and your spouse can’t agree on the divorce terms and plan to go to trial, expect to pay double the amount or more for both court costs and attorney fees. It’s in your financial best interest to settle outside the courtroom if possible.

Divorce Help for Low-Income Families

If your head’s spinning over the cost of getting divorced, you’re not alone. It’s an overwhelming time filled with emotional, mental, and financial stress.

Here are a few ways to mitigate the cost of getting divorced so that you can put this hardship behind you and move on with your life. 

Divorce Fee Waiver

Each state has what’s known as a divorce fee waiver or indigent divorce. This waiver allows you to file for divorce and ask the court to wave all associated fees. 

Like with most fee waivers, you must undergo an application process and get approved for assistance. There are several steps in this process. 

Step One: Get the Correct Forms 

Start by obtaining the necessary forms. You can do this by searching online for your local family or divorce court. You might be able to print these forms directly from the court’s website.

Be sure to print both the forms needed to file for divorce, as well as the application for a fee waiver. The website might also have a direction booklet to help you complete the application. 

If you’re unsure what to do next, visit the local courthouse and get the papers directly from the clerk. There you can ask any questions you might have and get help completing the forms.

Step Two: Make Sure You Qualify

Not everyone qualifies for a divorce fee waiver. Check with your state to make sure you meet the residency requirements before filing.

The court will ask questions related to your assets, debt, children, the date of your marriage, as well as the reason you’re filing for divorce. 

At this time, you’ll also document whether or not you’re requesting alimony, child support, or a division of property and other marital assets.

Step Three: Proof of Financial Need

You must also meet certain financial criteria to qualify for a divorce fee waiver. You must prove that you’re indigent, aka low-income.

The court will ask for the following information:

  • Proof of income (including social security, disability, payroll, and spousal support)
  • All assets (property, vehicles, bank accounts, etc.)
  • All debt (loans, credit cards, and utility bills)

In some cases, the court may also request a copy of your most recent tax returns.

The application will list all required documents so you can adequately prepare. While collecting all of this information may sound daunting, it’s also required for the divorce process itself.

The court will request financial disclosure from both parties, which means the information you collect for the divorce waiver fee will double as your financial disclosure in court.

Essentially, you’re killing two birds with one stone.

Step Four: Get the Forms Notarized and Submitted

Lastly, the forms must be notarized by an approved notary. Most banks and some shipping or mailing facilities (UPS, FedEx, etc.) have notaries on staff.

Once all of the paperwork is completed, you file your application with the court and wait. 

Step Five: Approved or Denied

Now, you’ll find out if your fee waiver application was approved or denied. After reviewing the paperwork, a judge will schedule a hearing to ask you questions about your application.

This isn’t always necessary. In some situations, the information you provided on the forms is enough for the court to make a decision. 

The court may also choose to defer the fee, which means it’s not waived, but you can pay it at a later date. This is common if you’re scheduled to receive a payout from your spouse’s assets. 

Consider an Uncontested Divorce

If you and your spouse are splitting up on good terms, you both can avoid hefty court and attorney fees. The faster and simpler the divorce proceedings are, the cheaper it is.

An uncontested divorce is one where both parties agree on the terms, and there are no issues related to marital support, a division of property, or child custody.

In some cases, an uncontested divorce is settled in just a few weeks! That makes the entire process less painful — both emotionally and financially.

See if you and your spouse can agree on major issues outside of court and before filing for divorce. This will save you time and money in the long run.

Marriages that last under 5 years are often less complicated and less expensive. Longer marriages usually involve more assets, more debt, and more disagreements.

Find a Low-Income Divorce Attorney

Unfortunately, not all separations are that simple or go as planned. The biggest expense related to divorce is hiring an attorney. 

The good news is, there are attorneys out there who specialize in divorce help for low-income families. 

There are a few places to check for affordable legal aid, including:

  • Low-cost legal aid offices
  • Local or state bar associations
  • Online advertisements for low-income divorce attorneys

Low-cost legal aid offices can help you file for divorce or assist you if you’ve recently been served with divorce papers. They can also refer you to a law office willing to represent low-income clients. This is often done at a reduced rate or no cost at all.

Another option is to contact your local or state bar association. They can provide a list of low-income divorce lawyers who charge very low hourly fees. Some offer reduced rates or provide unlimited services for one flat fee. 

You may also find attorneys online that advertise divorce help for low-income families. Just because the services are at a reduced rate doesn’t mean they’re not quality. 

Many low-income lawyers are extremely competent and have years of experience in handling cases like yours. As with any online recommendation, be sure to do your research before signing a contract or agreement. 

In some cases, the court will award one spouse attorney’s fees. This means that the partner with the higher income is responsible for paying all the court costs.

If this describes your situation, a low-income attorney might be more apt to take your case, knowing their fees will be covered.

Obtaining legal aid is a must if your divorce involves children. A legal expert will ensure you receive the financial support and visitation you’re entitled to. 

Represent Yourself in Court

Another way to save money when filing for divorce is to represent yourself. Not all divorces require a lawyer. But before you decide to tackle your divorce on your own, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Do your research and check the rules and guidelines of the local court. The best way to get an inside perspective is to attend other divorce hearings before your own.

Arrive early to your hearing. Bring all the necessary paperwork and evidence. Be prepared and organized and let the facts speak for themselves whenever possible. 

The impression you make in court is important. Do your best to appear professional, calm, and put together, and always respect the judge, the court, and the entire process. You may find that the judge is sympathetic to what you are going through. 

Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand something, speak up. It could be the difference between a settlement and a long, drawn-out process.

Divorce Help for Low-Income Families is Out There

Just because you’re from a low-income family doesn’t mean you have to stay in an unhappy or unhealthy marriage. Divorce help for low-income families is available if you know where to look.

Start by determining how complicated your divorce will be. Simple separations, uncontested divorces, and marriages lasting under 5 years are often quick and less expensive.

If eligible, apply for a divorce fee waiver and search for low-income divorce attorneys that offer reduced rates or even free services.

Divorce is hard, but you can get through it. There’s a whole new future waiting for you on the other side.

If this article about divorce help for low-income families was helpful, you may qualify for free wireless service through the federal Lifeline program. You can check your eligibility now by clicking here.