Even when it's amicable, getting a divorce is rarely a simple process. It can take a toll on both your mental and physical health, your plans for the future, your children — and your wallet. Forbes estimates the average cost of a divorce in the U.S. runs between $15,000 and $20,000.
If you are also dealing with disputes over things like child custody or property, the price tag can hit the six-figure mark. But these days, even those who aren't going through explosive court proceedings are being hit by ballooning expenses due to soaring inflation. In this article, we will explore how the 'trickle-down' effect of inflation is impacting the cost of divorce.
In June 2022, the U.S. inflation rate hit a 40-year high of 9.1%. While that's slowly gone back down to 5% as of March 2023, that's still significantly higher than the Federal Reserve's target rate of 2%. Everything from eggs to energy has been costing people more, and this has resulted in a "trickle-down effect" that has escalated the cost of dissolving one's marriage.
The higher cost of living has led lawyers to increase their fees to account for rising rent, supplies, and employee wages. Some firms have even introduced credit card processing fees, passing along that increased expense to clients. Divorcing couples are feeling the knock-on effects.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of legal services went up by 4.9% in March 2023, compared to the same period last year. Just the attorney fees alone can range from $5,000 to over $50,000, depending on factors like geographic location (typically, fees are more expensive on the coasts) and the complexity of the divorce. Some cases may even require bringing in multiple experts, further increasing the cost.
Even people who began their divorce proceedings before prices started skyrocketing are having to navigate adjusting their finances for both inflation and life as a single person. For instance, assets and debts accumulated during the marriage may become the responsibility of both spouses depending on the state's laws.
Alimony and child support payouts may also be subject to a cost-of-living increase, meaning they can increase after the divorce based on inflation as well. When analyzing what a party might need on a monthly basis, you must factor in the rising cost of those things — health insurance, consumables, shelter, expenses, utilities — meaning it will affect the need-based portion of alimony.
Some solutions to the rising cost of divorce include DIY divorce kits. This is a cost-effective solution in which customized ready-to-sign documents are sent straight to couples. It allows them to avoid attorney fees, and can vastly speed up the process of a divorce.
While the legal bills rise, there are other expenses — or financial losses — that couples may face in this difficult process. Mortgage rates have been soaring over the past year, making it more expensive to refinance if you need to remove your spouse from the loan. Your investment or retirement accounts may have also taken a hit due to stock market fluctuations.
The housing crash of 2007-2008 is an example where many couples were forced to live together because they couldn't sell their homes due to rising costs. Nor were they able to take loans or barter for equity in the home.
Considering the financial implications of divorce during times of high inflation is crucial. Even couples who are already separated need to seriously consider whether they can afford to get a divorce right now and what their life might look like after. They may opt to initiate the process, start with mediation, and ultimately see their divorce through when mortgage rates drop or house prices level off.
It's essential to consider future costs as well and adjust your spending habits, especially if you have children. For example, you might need to budget for extra medical costs if you're no longer covered under your ex's health insurance.
There are situations where leaving the relationship is more important than maintaining your financial stability, such as being in an abusive relationship. But whatever the situation, it can be helpful to consult with a creative family law attorney who can help explore different options and ensure couples have a parachute secured when they are ready to end the marriage.