Cost of a Divorce

One of the most common questions we get is how much does a divorce cost?  The answer is that it depends.  We know, that is vague and can be frustrating to hear, but we are trying to be honest here.  It really just depends.

Attorney’s Fees

First of all, under certain circumstances attorney fees can be requested by one party against another.  There is not any detailed list of factors in this statute, the court at its discretion is directed to only consider “the financial resources of both parties.”  The court can also order that the amount be paid directly to the attorney and can authorize that lawyer to directly enforce that award.  Sometimes the court will determine the award of attorneys fees similar to the considerations for maintenance.  Things like the ability of each spouse to make money, age and status, ability to support needs, and all other pertinent facts and circumstances.  Sometimes the court looks at attorneys fees in context of final property division and sometimes it is even awarded over time with increased maintenance (i.e. alimony).  There can also be temporary award of fees made early on to ensure that economically disadvantaged party is treated unfairly (like not being unable to afford an attorney or take a deposition).

Unbundled Legal Services

Secondly, if cost is an issue for you, unbundled legal services are available.  Traditionally attorneys who entered an appearance were in for everything and could not undertake limited representation, even if the client wanted only partial representation.  However unbundled services, commonly known as “ghost-writing” lets the client pay for a-la-carte legal advice at the attorney’s hourly rate but lets the party go in and do it own their own.  The client can meet with the attorney to help fill out the forms, talk the case over, figure out what is fair, what the judge is like, discuss the law and the legal requirements on various issues, drafting the final agreement, and other general advice which helps a person who cannot afford full representation.  Call us today if you need this kind of help.

Actual Cost Ranges

So what sorts of things can increase the cost of a divorce?  Almost always it is going to be how complex the case is and how acrimonious the parties are towards each other.  This is because of the way attorneys charge clients, an hourly rate.  (Don’t be fooled into hiring an expensive attorney just because his/her rate is high and therefore must be the best; Learn more about how to hire the right attorney) Is your lawyer going to create issues to bill more time?  Is the other lawyer going to do the same?  Heaven help us all if both lawyers are like that (which unfortunately we see, a lot).

For the most basic divorce, one where there are no contested issues and the parties agree on everything the fees will likely range between $1,000 to $3,000.  After that it really just depends.  Sometimes parties agree on some things, like custody, but not on the money, like maintenance.  Sometimes parties think they have an agreement on custody but then when the other person sees the presumed child support payment all agreements go out the window.  Throw in a contested pre-nuptial agreement, a dispute as to what property is marital or separate, hurt feelings, investments with other family members and price increases.  Did anyone say domestic violence?  Related criminal issues?  Protective orders?  These an more regularly come up, even in seemingly friendly divorces.

Hidden Costs

Don’t forget, there are oftentimes other professional fees.  Accountants to locate hidden assets or uncover hidden accounts.  Child family investigators and even supplemental investigators (which can be very expensive).  What about a vocational expert or business valuation expert to determine the appropriate level of income or the valuation of a business?  These costs are all extra and can start at $2,000 and up.  Moreover these costs are usually broken in to two parts, the pre-trial reporting and then the trial appearance.  Oftentimes other professional rates are equal if not higher than the average rate for the attorney.

It is important to remember to that most cases settle and do not go to court.  A general rule of thumb is that for every hour spent in court the attorney will spend at least two hours preparing.  If not longer.  When a case settles, if at all, also impacts the fees.  Will there be mediation?  If so how long and how many times?  Do you want to take depositions and engage in discovery (asking questions to the other side)?    Time is money.  Literally.

Don’t forget there are costs associated with filing anything with the court.  These are in addition to the fees.  Here s the list of court filing fees.

At the end of the day the average divorce is usually between $10,000 – $30,000.  Average in the sense of some but not all of the case is contested and most but not all don’t go to trial.  However that is an average, and only an average.  Many cases are much more expensive than that and many are much cheaper.  It all just depends.