The ABC's of Affordable Divorce

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If a storefront divorce is not going to cut it — or cut it fairly — is your only option to plunk down a $25,000 retainer fee? Not if you and your spouse are both motivated to save cash and can be reasonable (granted, this last part is deceptively simple).

Mediation

If you and your soon-to-be-ex can stand to be in the same room, you might do well with mediation. Mediation rests on the premise that nobody knows what is best for a splitting couple better than the splitting couple themselves, says lawyer Ellie Wertheim, who practices mediation with her partner Abby Tolchinsky in Manhattan and Westchester. Mediators don’t prescribe a fair solution; they simply facilitate negotiations between the two of you until you arrive at a solution.

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The upside here is that you have authority to shape your own custom-designed agreement. The downside is that even though many mediators are also lawyers, they will not advocate for either of you during the negotiations.

For this reason, the best mediators will require or strongly recommend that both of you consult an attorney at some point. Nobody wants to find herself out with friends months after their agreement was signed and hear, “Oh, honey, you didn’t you know you were entitled to half of his 401(k)?”

“You need to know what you might be entitled to under the law,” Wertheim says, “even if you don’t choose to act on it.”

Many couples in mediation will have “consulting attorneys” on the side who can educate them on certain points before they going into the mediation room on their own. They may consult once or several times during the process. And, since a consulting attorney usually charges by the hour, he or she will still cost you less than a litigator on retainer.

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