You wed on a whim, on a bender, or whatever it was that compelled you to commit to love, honor and cherish. Now you want it over. Sound familiar?
While we hate to bring up Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries’ union gone bad in a hurry, there’s a way for the non-famous to end a marriage on the cheap. It’s relatively fast, and couples can part with their dignity intact.
Reverse your walk down the aisle with a do-it-yourself, uncontested, no-fault divorce. In many states you can simply download the forms, submit them for between $200 and $400, and wait two to six months for the court to grant the divorce.
“It’s certainly the quickest and cheapest way to get it,” explains Steven Goldfeder, a New York matrimonial lawyer at Blank Rome LLP, which handled the divorces of Donald Trump and Howard Stern.
Here’s the catch: An uncontested “per se” (lawyerese for DIY) divorce is a good way to go only if you’t have neither children nor considerable assets to protect, Goldfeder says. Custody, alimony and property issues can get tricky without professionals involved.
“If both sides have very little money, it doesn’t pay to retain lawyers,” he explains. Goldfeder draws the DIY line at around $50,000 in the bank and home ownership.
But Ed Sherman, a California attorney who authored Make Any Divorce Better!, recommends avoiding lawyers at all costs. “Getting lawyers involved is a very good way to have high conflict,” he says. “The legal system is adversarial. Lawyers are trained to fight.”
As many of you know, splitting couples can fight without any training at all. Resist the urge. You and your short-term sweetie will have to collaborate on your divorce. You will have to agree that it’s the right thing to do, and that everybody moves on with what they had before the marriage. The law means what it says in stipulating “uncontested.”
We don’t know of many divorce-related arguments that end with “Gee, honey, you’re absolutely right” — but do your best. “It’s much less expensive if people are going to cooperate regardless of how the divorce is done,” says psychotherapist and divorce coach Micki McWade.
The moment either of you lawyers up, you can kiss your discount divorce goodbye. “Sometimes the only way that you can reach someone is through the wallet,” McWade says. “People don’t want to spend more than they have to. But there are some who are just too angry and don’t care how much it costs. That often ends when someone starts writing retainer checks for a lawyer, when they realize it’s tens of thousand so dollars.”
Sometimes the parties have to overcome the shame of making such a big mistake before they can reach an accord, the psychologist adds.
At least the blame doesn’t have to swatted back and forth like a tennis ball. Every state is now “no-fault,” meaning couples no longer have to cite specific problems such as infidelity or cruelty. For states that offer DIY, you wait the state-prescribed amount of time to file (usually a month to a year) and express that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Residency rules also apply.
One party will often play the role of petitioner, who will file the papers, and the other the respondent, who will be served with the papers. A joint Appearance, Consent Waiver can assure the judge that both parties concur, cutting the chances of a court appearance, according to Help Abolish Legal Tyranny, a 20,000-member nonprofit devoted to legal reform. In short marriages with no kids or property involved, a hearing is often not required. The court merely signs off and you get the notice by mail.
Some state courts offer DIY forms for annulment, which wipes the marriage from the record. In those cases you have to prove your grievance. It’s usually fraud, such as a spouse confessing he or she never really wanted children and just said so to induce marriage. Sometimes it can be incapacity, such as “I had eight vodka gimlets on the Vegas Strip before we entered the chapel.” Some states, like New York, do not post annulment forms and direct visitors to consult with attorneys. Annulments can be more difficult, our experts say.
As long as you can be nice through the process, the DIY divorce will work for the impetuously hitched. It took Kardashian and Humphries a whole 72 days to figure out they weren’t right for each other. Following through on their breakup in Hollywood fashion will require an army of lawyers and a whole lot of reality-show money.
You get to live happily after with your finances and sanity intact, and no tabloid attention whatsoever.