Here are two facts:
Fact 1: The divorce-complex is designed to make your breakup far more contentious than it probably needs to be, and lots of people make a ton of money from that reality.
Think about it:
- Your lawyer (and your ex's lawyer) has ever financial incentive to create drama and conflict in this process, which means that you rack up more very (very) expensive attorneys fees.
- States are incentivized to run and enforce child support programs since the federal government provides matching and incentivized funds for these programs.
- There are dozens of types of professionals who work for the family court system, who have financial incentives for divorcing spouses (and separating parents) to duke it out in court: custody evaluators, guardian ad litems, any number of mental health professionals, and child advocate attorney — not to mention forensic accountants, divorce coaches, real estate and mortgage brokers and other professionals who understand the financial bonanza
In other words: divorce is big business, and there are literally billions of dollars being made at the hands of families at their most vulnerable, every single year.
An excellent summary of this phenomena is the movie Divorce Corp, which you can rent on Amazon.
The movie does a good job also explaining how all this manufactured friction (and profit) destroys parents' relationships with their kids, by making the only custody option to be one of conflict and competition between parents who should be working together.
Fact 2: Thankfully, there are alternatives to high-conflict, traditional route, including a move to mediation, in which both partners share a single divorce mediator to help untangle the relationship and set a new path. Since you are paying for just one mediator — opposed to two battling attorneys — legal costs can be cut in half or more. Collaborative divorce is also on the rise. In these cases, each party gets their own attorney who has signed on to the “collaborative” ethos, which promises to work towards the best interest of the couple, and not their own bank accounts.
Also, there is a surge in DIY divorce. This can work for many divorcing couples, but there are some guidelines and caveats.
Related: Top 10 DIY divorce companies online
How does DIY divorce work?
Doing your own divorce typically involves the separating couple amicably agreeing to the terms of their divorce. Buy and download the divorce forms specific to your state, and fill them out.
These forms must be officially filed in your state's court system.
In most states, you can file directly with the courts yourself.
It is often advised you pay for a few hours of a divorce attorney's time to go over the forms and ensure that all the details are buttoned up, and then do the filing in your behalf.
This can be a good way to ensure that all important elements of the divorce are settled and that the technical parts of the filing are being handled by a professional — and your divorce does not get hung up in court for stupid technicalities, and you can just get on with it already!
Who should DIY divorce?
Needless to say, not every couple is a good candidate for do-it-yourself divorce.
Those who do it themselves, in what is called an uncontested divorce, are typically on friendly terms, do not have a lot of money or other assets that need to be divvied up, and both spouses can support themselves easily after the breakup.
Agreement to equally share parenting, in the case there are children, also makes these low-conflict breakups easily, as does the absence of any children, or kids who are grown.
Here are some scenarios when you should absolutely seek professional divorce guidance in an attorney or mediator:
- You don't know where your spouse is (kinda hard to negotiate over the kitchen table if he's MIA).
- History of abuse
- Recent history of addiction (if there are children involved)
- You have considerable assets between you, especially businesses or real estate that cannot be easily divided
- You suspect your spouse hid or stole money from you
- Joint ownership of real estate one party cannot easily afford on their own — and therefore need to agree on a sale or other arrangement
- A recent or impending bankruptcy
- Disagreements over basic parenting arrangements, including one parenting wishing to relocate far away, one parent demanding unequal parenting time or sole custody, or a disagreement about religion, education or other major decisions.
Are there any good DIY divorce resources?
There are several sites and companies out there that will help you get a divorce — they are mostly designed for an uncontested divorce, in which both parties agree on most issues in the breakup and don't need to go to court to finalize the divorce. DIY divorce resources provide users with documents you need per your state, and provide you with what amounts to a walkthrough.
You pay them for the ease of having all your resources in one place, and you still have to pay court fees, which tend to run between $300-$500 — all depending on where you file. One that stands out is Nolo.
Nolo is a publishing company that offers legal ebooks, online forms, software and other information to keep you informed about your options. One of their major specialties is DIY divorce.
What are Nolo’s products like?
Nolo has dozens of ebooks for purchase.
It’s a simple online checkout process, and you can download them as ePub or PDF depending on what kind of device you’ll be using them to read them.
You can also get most of them as physical books, in which case you’ll also have access to an ebook with your purchase.
Here are some of the topics and titles:
- Divorce & Money
- Essential Guide to Child Custody & Support
- Mediate, Don’t Litigate
- Divorce After 50
- Building a Parenting Agreement That Works
I bought a few of Nolo's most popular DIY divorce ebooks. Here’s a look at what you’ll get:
For starters, each ebook provides detailed and thorough information on what to expect and complete for your divorce.
Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce, for example, is more than 500 pages long, and it’s updated regularly — in fact, its seventh edition was published in May 2018. It covers topics like how to divide property, spousal support and health insurance, how child support works, how to choose a mediator, and preparing and filing legal papers for an uncontested divorce.
There’s a lot of useful advice in here, like this caution about keeping a cool head:
“Divorce is a traumatic experience, and your decision-making skills are probably not the best they’ve ever been.
Although you can’t put off all decisions including some that you’ll have to make with your spouse, like who will live where — try to minimize the number of long-term decisions you commit to in the first few months.
If you really have to settle something, at least sleep on it, and try to find someone you trust to help you think through your options.”
What does Nolo offer for free?
Nolo has hundreds of legal articles covering a lot of content, including divorce and family law. While it’s always good to do your research in more than one place, Nolo does cover many important and commonly asked topics, like:
- No fault vs. fault divorce
- Child custody, child support and visitation
- When to get a lawyer
- What to know about alimony
- Whether to choose divorce court, mediation or collaborative divorce
Does Nolo have a good reputation?
Nolo has been in business for 47 years, which is refreshing. Many companies that offer help with DIY divorces have only been in operation during the Internet era. Nolo is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau, but it nonetheless has an A+ rating.
Nolo started in 1971 when two San Francisco Bay-area lawyers realized there was a lack of resources for people who couldn’t always afford legal help but didn’t quite qualify for free legal aid. So they started publishing books to help folks out — the first one was called How To Do Your Own Divorce in California.
Today, Nolo is a reputable enterprise that offers many DIY legal books, and is owned byInternet Brands, which also owns Divorcenet.com and AllLaw.com and some other big names to create what’s known as the Nolo Network.
There are more than 50 web properties in the network, all dedicated to providing legal info for the everyday person.
Also, Nolo’s been covered by The New York Times, Newsweek, The Washington Post, USA Today and Time Magazine, among other leading publications.
Are there any other perks with Nolo?
A major benefit of Nolo is the sheer scope of their products. The depth of information available for free or for an affordable fee is very thorough.
You can also listen to podcasts that feature the authors discussing issues related to the book, and you can check out videos of helpful overviews of legal topics related to divorce.
However, the site takes care to point out that its legal e-guides and software products aren’t substitutes for lawyers if you actually need that level of legal advice — which most divorcing couples do.
Nolo will, however, help you connect with a lawyer through their directory of more than 1,000 lawyers that will compete for your business.
Also, the books come with some extra perks. For example, each ebook has its own page on Nolo, which you can check to stay up to date when new information is available for no extra fee. This is important since the law changes frequently.
How much do Nolo products cost?
Prices for Nolo’s divorce products vary, but none of them are super expensive.
It’s worth noting that some websites that offer DIY divorce walkthroughs charge anywhere from $130 or so to several hundred dollars — and some of them even have recurring fees.
Just using the book I just referenced, Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce, as an example: An ebook costs $24.99 (though is currently discounted to $17.49), and a book/ebook combo costs $24.99 (and is currently discounted to $19.99).
Another popular book, Divorce & Money, runs $34.99 — with the ebook alone discounted to $24.49 and the book/ebook combo discounted to $27.99. Obviously, there are too many books to do a price breakdown for each one, but they’re all pretty reasonable.
Who competes with Nolo?
Pros and cons of Nolo
- You get a lot of information, prepared in expert fashion, in an easy-to-digest format.
- If you ever need to go back and double-check something, the Nolo books are a quick reference that will save you from hunting around the internet.
- The price is reasonable for what you get, and there are many other resources available to you through Nolo, not to mention customer support.
- Nolo’s not a substitute for a lawyer, even though they’ll help you find one.
- If you’ve got time and drive, you can find pretty much all of this information on your own.
Nolo is a reputable source of thorough information on divorce and related topics. Between the affordably priced ebooks, free resources, and connection to vetted attorneys, Nolo is a solid resource to completing your divorce — even if you end up hiring an attorney.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.