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Planning to Divorce? You Could Save Over $10,000

Ending a marriage is difficult. Take it from someone who gradually emerged with a healthy second marriage and a healthy bank account. It gets better. 

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photo concept of heartbreak and saving money
Tom Schmucker/Alamy
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Divorce can be costly—and even when a sister has the money, that’s money she needs to build a new life and start over. So, what happens when money’s tight?

Getting a divorce when you’re strapped for cash may feel as tricky as baking a cake without an oven. You married for better or worse. Maybe you even said “for richer or poorer” in your vows, but you weren’t necessarily expecting that “poorer” part to come to pass, right?

When you are broke or living paycheck-to-paycheck

Although it might feel like navigating a divorce while you’re low on funds will be a painful, uphill battle, take heart. You can get through this challenge. Black women have moved mountains before. So grab your spiritual climbing gear—that inner strength passed down from the ancestors—and get ready to overcome obstacles on this trek to freedom.

Here are six keys to getting unhitched despite a limited bank account.

Educate yourself

The first step is to educate yourself on the divorce process, so you know what awaits, legally and financially. Think of this stage as mapping out your route before a road trip.

Learn the forms you need to fill out in your state to petition the court for a dissolution of marriage. Get familiar with the fees required locally when seeking a divorce. If kids are involved, read up on custody rules and arrangements. You don’t need to have a law degree, but you will need to become something of an expert in court rules and procedures and general divorce law. For example:

  • ·What are the residency requirements to file for divorce where you live?
  • What is required to serve the other party, and how long do they have to respond?
  • What are the grounds for divorce in your state: no-fault divorce, fault-based divorce, or both?
  • What do you want the court to grant regarding matters such as alimony, division of property and debts, health and life insurance, and a possible name change?

These are the types of issues you’ll need to bone up on if you’re going to effectively represent yourself without a lawyer.

Fortify your funds

Next, save up whatever money you can scrape together, even if it means temporarily deleting Uber Eats from your phone and living off spaghetti like you did back in college. Every little bit gets you closer to those court fees.

Filing fees to initiate a divorce in a United States court without legal representation range from $150 to $500, depending on the state. For instance:

  • In California, the filing fee for a divorce is $435 if no children are involved or less if you qualify for a fee waiver.
  • In New York, filing fees start at $210 for an uncontested, no-fault divorce.
  • In Florida, the average filing fee for a dissolution of marriage is $408
  • In Texas, divorce filing fees vary by county. Fees are $350 in Harris County, where Houston is located.

Be prepared for additional costs of around $100 to $200 for things like serving fees, certified copies, or if you’re adding a custody case to your filing.

Ask your soon-to-be ex to pitch in

Not every person can be reasoned with during a breakup. You might have a bitter person on your hands, especially if you’re the one who asked for the divorce. (And women initiate 69% of divorce proceedings in heterosexual marriages, researchers at Stanford have found).

However, if you and your soon-to-be-ex agree it’s time to call it quits, suggest splitting the legal filing costs. If negotiations fail, tell your spouse that it’ll be way cheaper and less draining on both of you if you come to a resolution without lawyers involved. After all, in the U.S., people who hire a divorce lawyer to handle their case pay an average of $11,300 in attorney fees, according to a national survey from NOLO.

Should your partner be adamant that they’re not on board to pay court costs, consider selling stuff you no longer want, need, or use. Getting rid of old electronics (think cell phones, iPads, or laptops), household goods, or clothes can likely net you a few hundred dollars.

Get help from the court

If you still lack funds after that scrimping, saving, and selling of items, most courts have fee waiver programs for low-income people. Look into those ASAP.

Divorce courts also offer packets of information (often online and in-person) for so-called “pro se” litigants, meaning people who are representing themselves. Be sure to get that info. It will give you much-needed knowledge about various required forms and court procedures.

Another tip: if you’re unsure of anything as you proceed, ask for help from a court ombudsman. Many family courts have this person on staff to act as a neutral third party, answering questions and giving administrative or procedural guidance to those going through divorce. Just realize, however, that an ombudsman won’t give you legal advice; they are trained to be impartial.

Lastly, as an alternative to a pure DIY route, ask the court for referrals to legal aid organizations or lawyers who offer pro bono divorce services. You just need somebody competent in your corner who can show you the ropes or handle the necessary paperwork.

One good starting resource: The American Bar Association has a free online service (available at where licensed volunteer attorneys answer questions via email for individuals who can’t afford lawyers. Seeking legal counsel is critical if you and your spouse have minor children or joint assets, such as a home.

Take things a moment at a time

Divorces take money. They can also take time. After filing for divorce, you may have to appear in court. If the divorce is uncontested, it’ll be speedier and less likely that you’ll need to appear before a judge. But even if things get dragged on longer than you’d like, try to hang in there.

Make regular deposits to—and withdrawals from—your spiritual bank account, whether that means prayer, meditation, music, worship services, a walk in nature or affirmations. Don’t forget to treat yourself with the same grace and care you would give your best girlfriend going through it: Draw an Epsom salt bath, get some sage up in that home to cleanse the energy, and sip tea under your favorite throw blanket. You deserve all that and more.

Seek out social support

With the pain, confusion or regret that can accompany this transition, one’s impulse may be to self-isolate. Don’t! Along the way, lean on your family, sisters, and community when you need an emotional boost, a babysitter or just somebody to vent to. Surrounding yourself with supportive queens who uplift you is key—especially when some of them have previously ended marriages. You wouldn’t prune roses in bad soil, would you? And no one’s gonna judge. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when things get confusing or heavy.

Finally, when the day comes to sign those divorce papers, celebrate like you just got that promotion you worked years for. Splurge on a mani/pedi if you can. Toast to your freedom with the girls over cocktails or mocktails. You did that!

Whether your divorce process is quick or a long journey, take comfort in knowing you’re starting fresh on your terms.

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