For some couples, the worst part of a divorce can be the expense involved. Divorces that drag on for years and through weeks of trial can be costly – both emotionally and financially. There are less expensive divorces and ways to save money during the divorce process. This article provides an overview of the factors affecting the costs of a divorce. If after reading this article you have questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
The average cost of divorce varies considerably based on the complexity or simplicity of a case and your family’s unique circumstances. For example, it is probably much more expensive for a couple who has children, owns several lavish homes, and a lucrative business to get divorced than it is for a childless couple who owns no real estate. Dividing property and valuing business can be time consuming and requires expert advice.
Also, couples who argue about every detail of their case will spend more in attorney’s fees and may take their case all the way to trial. This can turn what would be a simple, seemingly inexpensive divorce into a drawn-out expensive one. Because of the variability of each case, many attorneys have a difficult time determining exactly how much your divorce will cost.
If you're wondering how much a divorce will cost, you'll need to understand first that lawyer’s fees are typically the biggest expense in a case. Fees will vary, depending on where you live and the lawyer’s experience. Specifically, a seasoned attorney in a large city might charge considerably more than a lawyer fresh out of law school and working in a small town. Most divorce lawyers charge hourly fees for any work performed on your case. In many states, lawyers are prohibited from entering into a contingency fee arrangement in a divorce. In some cases, an attorney may take a case on with a flat fee arrangement, explained in more detail below.
Hourly fee arrangements are the most common. Under an hourly fee arrangement, a lawyer will bill for the time spent on a client’s case. An attorney’s fees may range from around $120 an hour to $400 or more an hour. It’s important to find out how much your attorney charges and make sure you can afford the fees.
A flat fee arrangement is one where the fee is determined up front, regardless of how much work the attorney performs in the case. Most attorneys won’t offer flat fees for a contentious divorce case. However, flat fee arrangements can work well in situations where a couple has already worked out the terms of their divorce and needs settlement paperwork and the final divorce documents prepared. Some attorneys will offer flat free uncontested divorces for around $2,000.
The cost of a divorce will also depend on whether you settle your case at mediation, or go all the way to trial. A mediator is a neutral third-party trained in dispute resolution. A mediator or collaborative divorce attorney can help couples reach an agreement in a divorce and avoid trial. Because of mediation’s proven success, many judges will require couples to mediate before scheduling a divorce trial.
Mediation or collaborative divorce costs can vary considerably as well. Mediators and collaborative divorce attorneys may offer flat fees or hourly fee arrangements. Some mediators or collaborative divorce attorneys will be more expensive than others. Generally speaking however, collaborative divorce or mediation should be less expensive than litigating your divorce in court with your own attorneys. In mediation and collaborative law the idea is to work together in order to reach agreements versus a traditional divorce where your attorneys fight in out in court, increasing your overall attorney's fees, court fees, expert fees and cost to divorce.
Many divorcing couples file for divorce without an attorney. If done right, handling your own divorce can save you thousands of dollars in legal fees. However, if you don’t pay attention to your local rules, make a mistake on your paperwork, or enter into an unfair or improper settlement agreement, it could wind up costing you thousands of dollars and impact important issues, like custody or alimony for years to come.
If you’re planning to do your own divorce, you should familiarize yourself with your local court rules. You'll need to prepare your divorce paperwork and arrange for certain documents (like a petition and summons) to be personally served on your spouse. If you have children, you’ll can to estimate child support using your state’s child support calculator, and you may need to prepare a parenting plan and submit it to the court. If things get too complicated in your case, you can always hire an attorney to help you navigate your case. At a minimum, you should have an attorney review any proposed divorce settlement agreement before you sign it. An attorney can help ensure your rights are properly protected in the agreement.
In addition to attorney’s fees, there are other filing fee and service costs associated with divorce. Even if you handle your case without a lawyer, you’ll be responsible for paying certain costs unless you qualify for a fee waiver from the court. For example, most states have a divorce filing fee of a few hundred dollars that you’ll have to pay at the time you file your case. If you need to hire a process server to serve your spouse with initial divorce paperwork, you’ll also need to pay that fee.
Attorney’s offices can charge mailing or copying fees. Even if an attorney isn’t working on your case, a paralegal in your lawyer's office may be performing work. Many attorneys will explain the details of their fee arrangements and hourly fees for other staff at the start of your case. If not, be sure to ask about this during your initial consultation.