If there is one very positive outcome from my separation, it’s that ex and I got a legally-binding separation agreement drawn up and notarized for about $350.00 dollars. Keep in mind that the laws are different in each state, but I’m willing to bet that you can get it done cheaply in most other states too. Of course a lot is going to depend on your situation. If one of you is out for blood, this article probably isn’t for you—whether you’re defending yourself or trying to get everything out of the spouse that you can, you’re probably going to end up shelling out thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. However, if you can convince your spouse be semi-amicable about everything, there’s a good chance the costs won’t put you in the hole. Below I’m going to share some specifics about how I got such a cheap separation. I also share how I got my wife to relinquish the things most important to me.
My Separation Process
In the case of separation and divorce, knowledge is always more than half the battle. Knowing what I know now, I could have gotten a legally-binding separation agreement without spending a dime. But as my story illustrates, my initial lack of knowledge required that I spend a little. Maybe by the end of this post you’ll be able to do better than I did, even though I still did extremely well.
Initially, I was planning for something more along the lines of at least five thousand dollars. I didn’t really know what I was going to have to fight for. I set up appointments with two well-known divorce attorneys on a consultation basis only for about $350.00 apiece. I didn’t connect with the first attorney. While he seemed very capable, he didn’t seem to care about my situation personally. He was more focused on getting me committed to following a certain path going forward that I wasn’t comfortable with. After we talked about my situation for a little over forty-five minutes, I thanked him for his time and walked out. I wasn’t feeling good about spending the money, and I was feeling even more uneasy about doing it again with the second.
Luckily, I felt a strong connection with the second attorney right away. She seemed to care about my financial situation. As a teacher on a teacher’s salary, she carefully considered how much money I could realistically spend and then gave me many options on how to proceed, explaining the most likely outcome for each scenario. She did this all in about thirty-five minutes. Not only did I feel empowered by her extensive knowledge, but I felt she was a true advocate. My children were one of her main concerns, and each scenario she outlined included their best overall interests. Furthermore, she made the suggestion that we try to settle outside of court. This would be most beneficial for me financially and it would keep the kids exposed to the least amount of drama. I agreed. Then she suggested the wife and I sit down with a template she would e-mail to me to work out the details ourselves. It would take a little bit of work and time on our part, but she admitted it would be well worth it for us both if I felt my wife would be reasonable. She also offered to review the final draft of the separation agreement once all the details were worked out and offer further suggestions for changes to better serve my interests long-term, free of charge (by e-mail of course 🙂 ).
I walked out of her office feeling much better, but I wasn’t sure how my wife was going to react. Upon my attorney’s suggestion, I explained to my wife that I didn’t want to drag the kids into anything dramatic and had a way I could save both of us a lot of money. In fact, I told her she wouldn’t have to spend a dime. To my surprise, she agreed to give it a try. But she admitted that she was doubtful. I told her that I understood and thanked her for at least being willing.
But then came the frustrating part. I had to do most of the work. When I received the template, I asked my wife to sit with me so we could begin working on it right away. She made a lot of excuses and only seemed open for discussion when it was convenient for her, but I remained patient, calm, and cool-headed (again, at the suggestion of my attorney). This was the hardest part for me, because I was anxious to get it done. But realize this isn’t always a quick process.
Often times I had to draw up drafts alone, and then bring them to her, only to have much of it rejected. I would go back to the drawing board and try to find middle ground. While I had a right to be frustrated because I had to do most of the agreement with little initial input and a lot of changes, I refrained from showing this frustration until we finally agreed on a most aspects. In many areas I had to give more than I was initially willing, but in the end I was able to get what was most important to me by simply being patient.
After about a month of me going to her over and over with new drafts, she agreed to a final version. I e-mailed this copy to my attorney. She e-mailed me back within a day with a few minor suggestions, which the wife eventually agreed to. Again I had to give a little more, but nothing I wasn’t willing to sacrifice as long as I retained the things most important to me. Finally we were off to the bank to get an official notarization. And that was it. Even though I had done most of the work, I walked out of the bank feeling good enough to buy her lunch and begin my new life without her. Of course I was hurt. But I stayed strong enough to put all my feelings aside and treat the separation as a business deal for the time being (again at the suggestion of my attorney).
Upon reflection, both the attorney and I did pretty well. I used about a total of forty-five minutes of her time on the initial consultation. She probably spent another good thirty minutes reading over what the wife and I had agreed to. Her suggestions for minor changes probably took her about another fifteen minutes to type up and send back. When all was said and done, she probably totaled about an hour and forty-five minutes on me and she was paid about $350.00 dollars. That’s about a day and a half of pay on my teaching salary, so we both made out pretty good. Most divorce attorney’s probably wouldn’t have been generous enough to go the extra mile and offer to look over our final draft for free, so I feel extremely lucky to have found her.
In retrospect, I got an official separation agreement with great legal counsel for a total of $700.00 dollars between both attorneys. We had the document notarized at my bank, which was free.
I’m sharing this post on the blog for those who might be in a situation similar to mine. You don’t always have to spend thousands of dollars to go through this process. It may seem that my situation before signing the agreement was simple, but it wasn’t. I’m not going to share the details, but let’s just say there had been a lot of arguing and strong emotions. Infidelity, dishonesty, anger, and resentment had been stewing for years. And we had the details for two young children to work out. As you can imagine, I initially feared the worse when it came down to the cost for our separation. But I was pleasantly surprised to know that it didn’t have to be that way. While I could have retained the attorney I liked to do most of the work for me, there’s really no need if you feel comfortable searching the internet. Decades ago an attorney was truly needed to get the experience and knowledge of the law, but everything you need to know now is available through some simple Google searches.
How I Made the Separation Agreement Work for Me
Below I want to share the most important reasons we were able to work out the separation agreement so amicably and cheaply. It’s all about getting into the right mindset. Even though I was strongly against the separation at the time, I learned to put my emotions aside, at least while we were working out the separation. This is key. If you have the gut feeling the marriage is irreconcilable, you’re going to have to see it as a business deal. If you allow yourself to see it personally, more than likely you’ll never be able to reach middle ground. When disagreements are present during the discussion process, your emotions are going to cause you to lash out and the communication process is going to be shut down. When the spouse is making demands that you’re strongly against, play it cool. Ask to step away. Several times I felt my wife was being extremely unfair and unreasonable. I felt like exploding, but I remained cool-headed. I NEVER let her know how I was really feeling. This was vital because I didn’t want to give her cause for concern that we couldn’t get through it.
A few times I had to step away and do some research on specific laws in my state. I then had to return to the conversation and present to her—in a clam manner—why I thought I had a right to refuse some of the things she was demanding based on the law. Many times I was able to change her mind just by presenting the facts. For example, once we agreed that I would get the kids about 140 days out of the year (comprising half the summer, every other weekend, half of all major holidays, and every Wednesday night), I showed her how the courts used some calculations to determine how much extra money I would have to contribute to make up for the extra time she would have them. Instead of paying any kind of child support, we finally agreed that I would simply keep them on my health insurance plan, which made up for the extra costs she would be spending in monthly grocery, electricity, and water bills. Of course I also agreed to contribute to half of the kids expenses for clothes, school supplies, and other essentials. Once she saw the facts, she softened up a bit on her demands. My point is, while I had to do all the work of getting this stuff together, it greatly benefited me in the long run. If you want to save the money, most of the responsibility might fall on your shoulders. (In case this helps, you can clink on this link to input all the information the state would use in a court case to determine how much money you will need to contribute in NC).
In North Carolina, you have to be separated for a year (separate addresses) before you can get a divorce. I further relieved my wife’s anxiety about the process by telling her we could review the separation at the end of the year, and make minor changes if something wasn’t working out. I even had those words drawn up in the agreement. As I write this blog post, we are currently in that stage. I am now reliving a little bit of the frustration for what I feel are some additional unreasonable demands, but I knew this would happen, especially as it relates to finances. But I have done my research and I know what I’m up against. Any personal issues she might be going through are now on her, and my only concern are the kids. That’s not me being cold by the way, but it’s necessary for me not to be taken advantage of. To be fair to her, perhaps she feels I am being unreasonable. Maybe she has her own way of justifying her additional demands one year later, but again, I feel overall that as long as I am doing my part legally for the kids by providing a safe, thriving environment while they’re in my home, everything else has to be viewed completely objectively in order to avoid unnecessary drama and anxiety.
Your Emotional State
As you can see, this entire process came down to me maintaining a controlled emotional state. I didn’t like what was happening to me. If you’ve read my “about me page,” then you know how miserable and shocked I was initially. But a big purpose of this blog is to help you accept your situation and then move on while getting the most out of your life through personal growth and all the new opportunity you can experience.
The way you perceive your situation and the emotional states that follow are everything in a separation and divorce. Sometimes, people can reconcile. But if you know you can’t, you have to put subjectivity to the side. In conclusion, I had to focus on the six points below to eventually end up with something I was extremely happy with.
- I didn’t get frustrated.
- I was willing to do most of the work.
- I was patient, even when my spouse wasn’t.
- I prepared myself mentally and emotionally.
- I sacrificed on things important to her but stood firm on things important to me.
- I made it a priority to maintain my mental and emotional state until the agreement was signed.
All six points above required some sacrifice and time on my part. If you don’t have a lot of money and you don’t mind being patient and putting some time into it, then you can probably get away with a very cheap separation like I did. Remember, with simple Google searches you can get all the information you really need to do this yourself. Don’t be intimidated until you try it. Looking back, all the extra time I had to put into the agreement—hours of internet searches on laws and typing and retyping the agreement, really wasn’t that much. If this sounds like exhausting work to you, it may make you feel better that I probably only spent about a total of 30-40 hours max on research and typing. That’s only one work-week. The most frustrating part was the discussions with my wife.
Remember, more than likely you can get a free template off the internet specific to your state. If you can’t find anything beneficial this way, spend the money for an initial consultation and tell the attorney that you are only there for a template so that you can do it yourself. More than likely they’ll be happy to help you out.
Although I had to pay my wife out for the equity in the home, I retained the house and the value has risen significantly this year alone. I certainly got the better deal here. And while I don’t get to see my kids every weekend anymore, the time we do have together is higher quality because it’s just me and them and I’m able to give them my undivided attention. Sure, my income is split in half now and things have been tough for me from time to time, but now I see life as a brand new opportunity and overall, I’m much happier. It is my hope that this post has given you something to look forward to if you are about to embark upon the separation process.
Although I only spent a grand total of $700.00 dollars to get my separation agreement finished, it’s a possibility you can get it done for free. The internet is full of great templates. Personally, I’m glad I had the initial consultation with an attorney, because she gave me the confidence I needed to proceed. Since I was frightened about the process initially, I needed a little boost to get going. But maybe after reading this blog post you won’t even need that! Good luck!
Side note: if you live in the Raleigh, Durham, or Chapel Hill area, you might want to check out Rosen Law Firm if you know that you’re going to have to retain an attorney. At least one person there that I know of was stellar. 🙂 Contact me for her name.