Divorce on a Budget
By Bob Derber and Judge Paul Marigonda
Many people want to divorce but think they can’t afford it. Attorneys are not cheap. If you have limited assets and can agree about most matters – property division and issues surrounding the children – you have low-cost alternatives.
One alternative is our Superior Court’s free Self-Help Center, which can guide you through the divorce process. Center staff can’t give you legal advice, but they can help you through the process which can be confusing. If you have been there already, you know their time is limited, and you might consider a more personal approach.
If you and your spouse can agree and be civil with each other, a great second alternative are private Legal Document Assistants (LDAs). They LDAs provide detailed guidance and assistance, reducing the costs of a simple divorce, custody or support matter.
LDAs are specialists who can walk you through a divorce and prepare and the file legal documents for you. They are often very affordable and will meet jointly with both parties. Don’t get me wrong: I’m an attorney. I want your business, and all that I can get! But when families have limited resources and spouses can work together, my services may not be necessary. If you want to separate amicably and still need guidance, an LDA is often the best bet.
I often refer people to these professionals when this can work for them. I reached out to an LDA that I often work with, Alternative Legal Services in Felton, and spoke with Jill Chambers to understand how she helps couples separate while avoiding court and the expense of an attorney.
Jill’s typical fee for a divorce averages $1,250. She works with couples at her office and handles all court filings. You don’t need to go to court when you can agree on the result you want. Even better, she is available by phone for your questions!
Legal Document Assistants are professionals. While they cannot give legal advice, they will work with you through a list of questions to help you familiarize yourself with the divorce process and raise important points that may not have occurred to you. For example, you may not have considered who will claim the children on future tax returns. LDAs also help prepare a formal agreement to file with the court. Frankly, I am quite impressed with what LDAs accomplish for the price.
If your issues relate to custody and visitation with the children, you can still take advantage of the court’s free mediation services and the LDA can guide you through the forms for this. You might use a LDA for only part of the process, and nothing prevents you from consulting with an attorney where legal help is necessary. LDAs encounter situations like this often and are careful to suggest this when your matter needs legal analysis.
I don’t want to belittle my own services. In the right circumstance, attorneys play a vital role. But there is a place and time for both professionals. I have found LDAs very helpful to divorcing couples who can still work together through their issues.
From the Bench
Most divorcing individuals navigate their own way through the process. It’s impressive when they work together and take the time to do it right. Whether you use an attorney, an LDA or our Self-Help Center, we are here to help. If you can reach agreements without the need of a judge, it’s better for all concerned.