I just want a cheap and easy divorce!

May 11, 2008

A common theme among many going through a divorce is the desire to have a “nice” divorce in the most cost-effective way possible.  There are many different opinions on how to accomplish this.  Today I will explain five options and give some pros/cons for each.

I will start off with two general caveats.  First of all, I would encourage everyone to at least consult with an attorney before signing any agreements or finalizing the divorce.  Know your legal rights, understand what you are giving up, and be aware of any long term consequences.  Secondly, realize that both parties must be willing to work together for a cheap and easy divorce.  If one party really wants to fight, the divorce will be much longer, costlier, and complicated than the other party ever imagined.  If both parties are willing to work towards it, a cheap and easy divorce is possible.           

Do It Yourself (Pro Se)

You and your spouse could decide to handle your divorce on your own.  In doing this, you are both acting pro se and representing yourselves.  The necessary court forms are generally available online (Minnesota Divorce Forms) or at the court house self-help desk.  You and your spouse fill in the forms telling the court who you are, what you own, and what you agree to.  A final court hearing may or may not be required.  (In Minnesota, it will be required when there are minor children involved, unless both parties have attorneys.)  It is important to understand that many things will be final in the divorce, you can’t go back to change it. 

Pros:  Free (other than the court filing fee).  Can be pretty straightforward for couples with no children and limited assets.  

Cons:  Check the box forms may not fit your situation.  You won’t be getting any legal advice.   

Prepared Forms/Paralegal

Divorce $99.  All over the internet, newspaper, and elsewhere you can see these advertisements.  These are generally form services or paralegals.  You pay the money and provide the information, they fill out the forms and you have divorce papers.  You then take the forms to process through the court.

Pros:  Someone else fills out the forms.  Can be affordable.

Cons:  You are paying for forms that can be obtained free of charge from the court.  You are paying someone for your divorce who cannot give you legal advice.  You are still acting pro se and must file with the court and handle any hearings on your own.


Some people think the path to an easy divorce is through mediation.  In mediation, the parties meet with a mediator, a neutral third party, who will help the parties discuss the terms of their divorce and reach agreements. 

Pros:  Can be a great forum for couples to open up lines of communication, discuss the divorce process, impact on their family, and reach agreements. 

Cons:  A mediator (even one who is also an attorney) cannot give legal advice or draft the divorce documents.  After reaching an agreement, the couple still needs to figure out how to handle the divorce process (pro se, form service, or attorney).  Can be an unnecessary expense for couples who are able to discuss the divorce and reach agreements on their own. 

Collaborative Law

Collaborative Law is a practice where the parties agree to work out the terms of the divorce without going to court.  Each party hires an attorney, generally under a collaborative agreement, where the attorney must withdraw if the parties are not able to reach agreement and the case proceeds to court.  In working through the divorce process the parties and their attorneys may work with other professionals (financial advisers, therapists, etc.).   

Pros:  Can be a nice way to handle the divorce, and get assistance from other professionals.

Cons:  Not always a cost-effective method with meeting times for two attorneys and other professionals. 

Attorney (specifically Flat Fee Uncontested Divorce)   

Now I am probably biased here, but I think the way to go is to hire an attorney.  If you and your spouse are in complete agreement, some attorneys may be willing to handle your divorce on a flat fee basis.  Attorneys cannot represent both spouses, so one spouse will hire the attorney and the other spouse will be pro se.  

I routinely handle uncontested divorces on a flat fee basis.  After explaining the divorce process and various options to my client, my client will tell me what the agreements are with the spouse.  I will advise my clients on the best way to accomplish those agreements and any unanticipated consequences that may result.  I draft the necessary documents and handle any required court hearings.    

Pros:  An attorney will handle all the documents and the court process.  You can get legal advice and your divorce will be tailored to your needs.   

Cons:  The idea of getting an attorney involved may feel antagonistic to some.  May not be economical depending on the attorney’s fees.