Filing for divorce could be an expensive proposition, depending on whether you need an attorney, and if the divorce is uncontested or contested. For an uncontested divorce, you only need to pay the filing fee. For a contested divorce, you have to pay the filing fee and the fee to serve your spouse. Some states charge to file a counter petition, so if you are the spouse that was served, you have that fee to cover. You can do a contested divorce without an attorney, though that might not be wise. The longer it takes to work things out in a contested divorce, or the more "side battles," such as temporary custody or temporary alimony, the more expensive a divorce becomes.
Assistance for an Unemployed Spouse
If you are unemployed because you stay home with the children, you have medical issues, because your spouse prefers that you do not work, or for any reason, and want to retain an attorney, some attorneys will take your case. You must explain to the attorney up front that you do not have the money since you do not work. In the petition, the attorney will ask that your spouse pay your legal fees. In most cases, especially if you stayed home with the children or because your spouse preferred that you did not work, the court will order your spouse to pay your fees. You have benefit of having legal representation, which is always better if your spouse retains an attorney.
Some couples use savings to pay for a divorce. The couples will agree that each party has a set amount that can be removed from savings or a retirement account to pay for each spouse's attorney. Once the money is gone, the spouses must get together to determine whether more money from a particular account should be used, or if each spouse must come up with his own money from working.
Some areas have legal aid facilities that have attorneys who work for lower than the going rate. Some may even base their fees on a percentage of your income. Check in your particular area for legal aid. When you call them, ask as to how they are paid -- whether they use a flat fee or if representation is based on a percentage of your income.
Explore the joint assistance avenue, even if you and your spouse are arguing. The money is going to be divided equitably by the end of the divorce proceedings, so it is only fair that you can help each other out to get your differences ironed out, even if you cannot agree on anything else. If that doesn't work, or you don't have the savings to pay for attorneys, check into the legal aid or ask at your clerk's office. In some cities, the clerk has a division that helps fill out the divorce forms, which are all available from the clerk.