How Much Does a Divorce Cost?
What are court filing fees?
The first step in getting a divorce case started in New Jersey is completing a form entitled, “Complaint for Divorce,” and filing (submitting) the form with the Chancery Division of the court. Courts charge fees each time you file legal paperwork. The Chancery Division currently charges $250 to file a divorce complaint. If you have to file any motions (applications requesting relief) in your case, the court will charge you an additional $30 per motion. You can find the current filing fees for New Jersey courts by clicking here.
Can I represent myself, or should I hire an attorney?
When the divorce is simple, and divorcing couples agree.
You can represent yourself in your divorce, especially if the issues are straightforward, and you believe your spouse has disclosed all relevant financial information, including all documents regarding both spouses’ assets, debts, income, and expenses.
It will also help if you and your spouse agree on alimony, child support, child custody, and the division of property. If so, you can enter into a settlement agreement, which is a written contract between spouses that resolves divorce issues.
But, even if you and your spouse have managed to come up with a proposed settlement on all issues, it’s wise to ask an attorney to review the agreement on your behalf, before you sign it, so you can make sure your legal rights are protected.
When the divorce is complicated and/or couples can’t agree.
In contrast, many divorcing couples are faced with challenging legal issues and complicated financial questions that only an expert can handle (eg., questions about whether property belongs to the marital estate or a separate estate, how to value and divide a pension, how to value and divide business interests, or how to impute income for support).
Other divorces involve heated custody battles and/or bitter disputes over property, alimony, or child support. Your spouse may want to fight you on everything and reject all of your proposals. If so, you’ll end up in a court battle. The legal rules for court procedures take many years to master; they are not something you’ll be able to learn on your own. Under these circumstances, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney that can guide you through the divorce process and, if necessary, represent you in court.
How much will my attorney charge?
Lawyers usually charge by the hour. In New Jersey, fees typically range from about $100 to $300 an hour. If your case is relatively simple (eg., few assets and debts and/or mutual agreement on all issues) you should be able to keep attorney’s fees and court charges to a minimum.
The more contentious and complicated your case is, the more it will cost. If you end up filing numerous court motions, fees may skyrocket. If you have to hire experts (eg., child custody experts, accountants, or pension experts), you’ll probably spend several thousands of dollars, at a minimum, on professional fees alone.
In truth, it’s virtually impossible to predict how much a divorce will cost. No one can be certain in advance of all of the legal or factual issues that may come up in your case. It’s also difficult to gauge whether your spouse (or your spouse’s attorney) will disagree with you on every point, or intentionally engage in behavior that increases legal fees. Some spouses start off agreeable, but end up fighting to the bitter end.
The best way to keep costs down is to avoid court where possible, and try to resolve as many issues as you can directly with your spouse.
Can the Court Order my Spouse to Pay my Legal Fees?
In divorce cases, courts have the authority to order one spouse (payor spouse) to pay the other spouse’s (requesting spouse) attorney’s fees during the divorce proceeding and at the conclusion of the divorce. When faced with a request for attorney’s fees, a court will consider several factors including:
- the requesting spouse’s need for attorney’s fees
- the payor spouse’s ability to pay the fees
- the requesting spouse’s good faith in requesting the fee award, and
- whether the amount requested is reasonable.
If you’re going through a divorce, but can’t afford to hire a lawyer, you should speak with an attorney and ask whether you’re entitled to an award of legal fees from your spouse.
What are the Residency Requirements?
Generally speaking, you have to live in New Jersey for at least one year before you can file for divorce in the state.
How do I Serve my Spouse with Divorce Papers?
"Service” of divorce papers is the legal process by which you give your spouse the required notice of the divorce. This basically means you need to make sure your spouse gets a copy of the divorce complaint and summons (divorce paperwork).
The easiest way to do this is to get your spouse to agree to accept service, and sign an acknowledgement saying he or she was served.
If your spouse refuses, you’ll have to ask a third parson to serve your spouse. This third person could be the local sheriff, your attorney or attorney’s agent (such as a process server), or another competent adult that doesn’t have a direct interest in your case (eg., you can’t serve divorce papers on your spouse).
This third person should deliver the complaint and summons to your spouse (literally hand them to your spouse), or deliver them to your spouse’s home, and leave them with a competent member of your spouse’s household that’s at least 14 years old.
If, despite your efforts, your spouse manages to avoid service, you may be able to mail a copy of the summons and complaint to your spouse’s home address via registered or certified mail.
For more information on the basics of divorce in New Jersey, please see Dissolution of Marriage in New Jersey.
For a complete description of the various methods for serving your spouse, see New Jersey Rules 4:4 and 4:4-5.
For more information on how to request attorney’s fees, see New Jersey Rule 4:42-9(a)(1) and N..J.S.A. 2A:34-23.