How Much Does A Divorce Cost?
Updated February 26, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Amy Brown
How much a divorce cost boils down to whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce is typically the easier one, as it mainly stays out of court. The only thing you need a judge for in an uncontested divorce is to review and sign off on the final paperwork.
In a contested divorce, however, you and your spouse cannot agree on the issues, so you opt to allow the courts to intervene to make the decisions for you. This is, without a doubt, the costlier option, but if you need it, you need it.
In a contested divorce, you may each choose to hire an attorney to represent your interests, and each attorney needs to be paid. There are also costs incurred for motions filed and served, phone calls and appointments with your attorney, and so on. If you hire an attorney, your divorce can cost thousands of dollars by the time everything is all said and done.
If you are considering filing for a legal separation, you should know that this may be just as expensive as filing for a divorce. You may wish to consult with an attorney before you do this, just to ensure that what you are doing is best for your situation.
Factors Affecting The Cost Of A Divorce
The average cost for a divorce can vary wildly, no matter the state you live in. Below are some of the factors that can vastly affect the price of your upcoming proceedings:
- Where you're getting divorced or legally separated
- Whether you're filing the divorce yourself or hiring an attorney
- Whether you're entrusting your lawyer to handle the entire divorce or only a portion of it
- Whether you have children
- Whether you're filing your divorce online or obtaining the necessary paperwork from the court
- Whether you and your spouse are attempting mediation first
- Whether you and your spouse agree on all major issues
- Whether your divorce needs to go to trial to be resolved
If your case needs to go to a hearing or a trial, then you will see your bill increase exponentially if you need to hire an attorney. This is because he or she has to stop everything they are doing and put aside all of their other cases so that they can focus on your hearing or trial to get you the best possible outcome. You may also be responsible for paying for expert witnesses to testify on your behalf. Most divorces end up settling, as a trial is an expense that most people simply cannot afford.
Acting Pro Se
A "pro se" litigant is someone who wishes to represent himself or herself in a court of law. If you do not want to hire an attorney, and both you and your spouse wish to handle everything yourselves, then you are proceeding "pro se." If you choose to represent yourself, then you may be able to finalize your divorce for as little as $500, maybe even less.
There are divorce kits online that you can purchase, which include all of the necessary forms to help you get divorced. The kits themselves are $100, and you will then have to factor in the necessary fees that are associated with each form, which can raise the total cost of the divorce to those above $500 number. You may qualify for an exception, however, if you cannot afford to pay the filing fees.
You can also find these forms for free via your state's judicial website. Typically, there will be detailed instructions on the website that can help guide you through filling out these forms. Your local courthouse may also offer copies of the forms. If either of those options does not work, you can also research the necessary format to create your forms, which you should be able to track down via a public law library.
Hiring An Attorney
When you hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce, this can vastly change the amount of money you spend on obtaining that divorce. While some attorneys may charge you a flat fee for an uncontested divorce, others instead charge retainer fees. A retainer fee is a kind of deposit that you pay toward your legal fees, and the attorney holds it in escrow and dips into it as needed. Cases that are litigated almost always start with a retainer.
If the attorney uses up the retainer, then he or she may charge you additional fees until the divorce is finalized. Attorney fees include, but are not limited to:
- Phone calls
- The composition of emails and text messages to both you and opposing counsel
- Preparations for court appearances, depositions, and discovery
- The preparation and review of legal briefs and correspondence
- Legal research
If, however, the divorce is finalized before the attorney can use up the full retainer, then he or she is to return the unused portion of the retainer to the client. And no matter whether you pay a retainer up front or are charged along the way, each attorney charges a different amount for the services he or she provides, especially if he or she is well known and has a reputation for winning cases.
The attorney may also charge you more if there are children involved in the divorce. This is because there is an inordinate amount of time that must be devoted to ensuring that all issues are resolved about custody, visitation, and child support, as well as other issues involved with deciding which parent gets to decide what and when. This can refer to everything from the medical insurance that will cover the children to the extracurricular activities they engage in and the religion they will be raised with.
Fees For An Uncontested Divorce When Working With An Attorney
The average flat rate for an uncontested divorce maxes out at around $1,500. How much you pay depends largely on the number of assets vs. liabilities you have, as well as whether there are any children of the marriage. Attorneys who work on retainer will bill your initial deposit at an hourly rate of what is usually a maximum of $450 per hour, and then every hour after that, that exceeds the initial retainer.
Location is also just as important in the legal field as it is in real estate. Lawyers who practice in larger cities can charge even more than $450 per hour, while those who work in rural areas may charge less than $250 per hour. In other words, a divorce in Kentucky will probably be cheaper than a divorce in New York.
No matter which route you choose to go, you will incur extra costs. It doesn't matter if you go pro se or hire an attorney, file for an uncontested divorce or take the matter to court. Extra fees will come up, so it is smart to plan for them in advance.
For instance, state courts charge a fee for filing a divorce petition, which averages out to be about $200. If you and your spouse are not on good terms, and you need to serve your spouse with the necessary paperwork to begin a contested divorce, then you may need to pay an additional $35 to $100 in process service fees. These fees may be higher if you do not know where your spouse is currently living, and the process server has to dig a little deeper to find the person.
If, however, you are on friendly terms with your spouse, then he or she can simply sign an acceptance of the petition or a waiver of service in most states, either of which can then be filed with the appropriate state court. All totaled, it is probably a good idea to budget for an additional $300 to $350 on top of what you are already budgeting for an uncontested divorce package.
If none of these options sound ideal insofar as how you want your divorce to go, consider consulting with online legal services, who will prepare the paperwork for you to ensure that you don't miss anything or mess anything up. This service costs, on average, about $300, and it's cheaper than hiring an attorney, though pricier than filling out the forms yourself. Here, you're paying for peace of mind, rather than worrying about filling the forms out incorrectly.
You may also want to consider hiring an attorney by the hour, who can then review the paperwork for you as you complete it. This may cost less than what the attorney may charge insofar as a flat rate for an uncontested divorce, and you will not be obligated to pay a retainer fee. Here, you're not hiring an attorney per se; instead, you're buying his time by the hour for a specific service. This is called "limited scope representation," and you get to decide which part of the divorce you want your attorney to handle.
If all you want to hire an attorney for is to review the documents you create, you can save thousands of dollars in legal fees. You can also arrange it with your attorney that you will pay for some services but not others. While you will pay for him or her to prepare and review papers, you will not be billed for phone calls and emails.
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the costs and processes involved in your divorce? Consider reaching out to one of our licensed counselors who can give you advice when you need it, or just a shoulder to cry on, if that is all you require to feel better.
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