Who pays for the divorce?

As tough as it is for those involved, divorce is a reality of modern life. Anyone who’s been through one knows how quickly legal fees can add up, further complicating an already painful process. While spouses typically split their divorce costs, the situation can get complicated for families with only one breadwinner. Here are some of the most important considerations.

Fairness

Divorce costs are usually taken care of by each respective spouse, but exceptions are sometimes made when one party’s income is considerably higher. This levels the playing field so the spouse who earns less isn’t forced to represent themselves because they can’t afford an attorney. In many states, the spouse who earns more is ordered to pay the costs and fees of the other spouse. Sometimes a judge may order a liquidation of assets to help pay for these expenses. When the divorce is finalized, whatever amount was received for this purpose is then deducted from the recipient’s share of the assets. The reason for this is that each attorney works for the interests of their own client, so these costs cannot be considered a joint expenditure.

Fault

Misconduct of one spouse is usually not enough reason for the court to order them to pay for the fees accrued by the other. For example, a judge is unlikely to order an adulterous spouse to pay the other’s attorney fees as a form of punishment. On the other hand, if one spouse drags out the proceedings by filing unnecessary motions, the judge may order them to compensate the other spouse for this. While they probably won’t have to foot the entire bill for the process, they will likely have to pay for the additional court appearances.

Personal Financing

If the court does not order one spouse to assist with the other’s legal expenses, the disadvantaged spouse still has some options. It may be possible to get cash out of a retirement account, provided it wasn’t contributed to during the marriage. If it was, it would likely be considered marital property, for which the other spouse would be entitled a share. In the event the other spouse objected, the court would simply deduct from the original spouse’s share upon finalization of the divorce. It might also be possible to borrow from a family member or take out a personal loan.

Professional Options

If there’s no other way for one spouse to pay for their own legal costs, the attorney might know a private investor who would be willing to fund the divorce. This would usually be in exchange for a share in any assets received by the client when the divorce becomes final. Some attorneys may agree to take payment after the case is over. This is not the way most attorneys work, but it would allow the spouse to pay their legal fees from assets received. Other attorneys might be open to setting up a payment plan, especially if they routinely work with low-income clients.

Other Considerations

It’s important to consider that there are other costs besides legal fees and litigation to think about. Along with the splitting of assets, additional housing costs (for the other spouse) will likely be considered. There will likely be some joint financial obligations that have to continue being met, regardless of the outcome. If there are children involved, child support and college savings plans will certainly come up.

Ultimately, the outcome depends on how both parties decide to handle the matter. Spouses who are willing to work together to arrive at a compromise will be most likely to emerge from the process unscathed. While it may not be possible to erase the bad memories that led to the divorce, cooperation is the key to making it less difficult for everyone.