The True Cost of a Break-Up
Breaking up is hard to do, but here are some ways to mitigate the financial costs of splitting up.
While parting ways may be the right thing in the long run, there’s no getting around that awful short run: splitting-up sucks. That mourning, empty feeling has the singular ability to linger, and it doesn’t even really care if you were the dumper or the dumpee. But aside from the emotional toll of de-coupling, there are other, more tangible losses. A break-up will inflict blows to your mind, heart, and ego, however the worst injuries from may still be ones to your wallet.
When to call a lawyer (and when not to)
How expensive a break-up is will depend on how far up the relationship ladder you have traveled. Divorces—especially contested divorces—can run into the tens of thousands of dollars and on occasion the loss of a major league baseball franchise or sizeable chunk of royalties from The Beatles’ and Wings’ back catalogues.
But it’s no longer just men who end up leaving a marriage with only half their fortunes. As society has transformed over the decades, so has the balance of who pays when a marriage dissolves. According to survey from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 56% of their members have seen an increase in mothers paying child support over the past three years, while 47% have seen an increase in women paying alimony.
Still, divorce is an expensive endeavor no matter how it goes down. According to Forbes.com, the average cost of a divorce in the United States ranges from $15 to $30k, resulting in a $28 billion industry. The average divorce lawyer charges several hundreds of dollars per hour, and depending on how many assets the couple holds, qualified (and costly) CPAs may also be brought in by both sides.
There are less contentious (and therefore affordable) options like formal arbitration, which are intended to avoid a costly court battle and can cost between $10 and $15k. Another option is a mediated divorce, in which an impartial mediator who is trained in both the law and conflict resolution represents both parties will oversee the negotiations. These divorces can result in a price tag of around $5k.
But in this democratized Internet era, one can access information online and bypass the lawyers. For example, LegalZoom.com offers a “divorce package” for $299 that will help you to prepare and file documents yourself, tailored for your local jurisdiction. Or USLegalForms.com has packages beginning at only $49.95. The prices can vary depending on circumstances such as children or shared property.
If you go this route, and the split is uncontested, it may be worth your time to at least consult with a lawyer for an hour or two to make sure there are no loose, unforeseen ends.
Before moving on, you’ve got to move out
Whether leaving a marriage or a non-legally binding cohabitation, one thing is immediately inevitable: at least one person will certainly be physically moving out. And the sooner is probably the better.
The price of a move varies on how much stuff you have and how far you’re going. The average professional moving service will cost several hundred dollars for a simple in-town move (moving across zip codes can up the costs dramatically). The cheaper option is to rent a U-Haul, which offers local rentals for around $20/day plus the cost of a pizza and some beer to persuade some friends to help out with the heavy lifting. And of course, you can always hit-up Craigslist to hire the ubiquitous “man with a van,” who come in a wide range of price tags and levels of legitimacy.
As you search out a new place to live—especially if you are in a hurry—you may find it necessary to place some of your stuff in storage. These prices vary widely depending on your needs. Bundle.com’s database of aggregated and anonymized credit card data shows that the average total price spent at storage facilities in most parts of the country is between $100 and $300.
Keep in mind, that you may need to wait a month until you can move into a rental space. If things are really heated at home, and you don’t have any friends or family to couch surf with until your new home is available, you may have to stay at a hotel, or even a hostel. This is obviously a more expensive and annoying path. If you’re not able to share the same bed, hopefully you can still share the same place, at least for a little while.
A prenup for shacking up?
While unmarried split-ups will, by and large avoid any costly legal entanglements, there is the occasional nightmare such as comedian Bill Maher’s ex who sued him for breaking promises to marry her and father her children, or a man who sued his ex-fiancée for what he claims was her backed share of the rent and costs related to the wedding that was not to be. The lawsuit against Bill Maher was since dropped, while the jilted ex-groom’s case is still ongoing.
Thankfully, these cases are outliers. But one way to ensure order when parting ways is to write-up a cohabitation agreement. These legally binding contracts have been increasingly utilized by unmarried couples in addition to non-romantically linked roommates and tenants. These agreements can be used to layout a formal record of responsibilities, both practical and financial (e.g. mortgage payments, child care costs, etc.), however they can also serve as a kind of like a prenup for unmarried couples should things not work out.
Wynne Whitman, attorney at the law firm Schenck, Price, Smith & King, LLP told us “Take the time to have the uncomfortable conversation about what you anticipate happening if you break up. Everyone feels better if you’ve taken the question mark out of the equation.” In fact, Whitman suggests couples sign a cohabitation agreement specifically outlining who brought what to the relationship and how expenses will be divvied up in the event of a break-up.
Whitman added that only those who have “lots of assets” should consult a lawyer. Otherwise, you could fill out your own basic outline of who bought what into the relationship, and what they will bring out. As noted above, online service such as LegalZoom have preloaded cohabitation agreements available for $14.95. If it helps mitigate the pain of a split-up, it may be worth it.
Chris Rock said it best: “relationships are easy to get into, hard to maintain.” If a time comes when maintaining them is no longer worth the benefits, then it is best to take care of things in an orderly, mature fashion. Breaking-up will always be hard to do, but you would both be wise to not pile on extra unnecessary hardship.
You may also be interested in:
- 3 Cheap and Classy First Dates
- The True Cost of Dating
- Suing for love: Six Cases of expensive break-ups