By Divorce.com staff
Updated Oct 04, 2022
Divorce can be an expensive process, especially if you choose to get divorced through court. Different methods will come at different total costs. Some things, like filing fees, will generally be the same no matter how you choose to get divorced. The longer a divorce takes and the more complicated it becomes, the more expensive it will ultimately be.
The average cost of a divorce will often include much more than the costs of the divorce itself. You may have to hire professionals to handle the bulk of the work, including pricey attorneys. The costs may pile up faster than you’re expecting, and you need to be prepared for what’s coming. Here’s a breakdown of divorce costs, as well as some things you can do to significantly save money in your divorce proceedings.
What Expenses Are There in a Divorce?
You’re going to encounter a lot of expenses relating directly to your divorce. This doesn’t include other expenses you’ll encounter as a result of handling your divorce, like having to take time off work or arrange for childcare while you’re in court. These expenses can be minimized if you utilize alternative divorce solutions, and they’ll be maximized if your divorce becomes extensive or complicated.
The fee for a divorce filing is different in every state. Divorce filing fees range between $80 and $400. Some states will charge you extra if you file without an attorney. You also have to serve the paperwork to your partner.
Many states allow people living on government assistance or people living below the poverty line to apply for a waiver to eliminate court filing fees. This scenario is most common in emergency situations and won’t apply to most divorces.
If your spouse is on board with the divorce, you can serve the paperwork yourself. If this is something you’re both comfortable with, your spouse will expect the papers and readily accept them.
Most people prefer not to serve the paperwork themselves, as it can lead to heated confrontations. In some states, you can pay a fee to the Sheriff’s Office to serve your partner with divorce papers. In other states, you might need to hire a professional process server. Process servers are impartial third parties who deliver court paperwork to the intended recipient.
Divorce attorney fees and legal services are the largest expense you’ll encounter during your divorce. If you’re considering legal services, get a free consultation with a consulting attorney or family lawyer to get a sense of the average divorce cost. It’s possible to find inexpensive attorneys, but you often get what you pay for with court costs.
Any lawyer or law firm charging $50 an hour is likely not very experienced. The average divorce lawyer will cost about $300 an hour. Experienced divorce family law attorneys charge as much as $500 per hour, and your divorce case can last several months.
It’s not unusual for each partner to spend as much as $10,000 on attorney fees and legal advice by the time their divorce process concludes. Highly contested divorces or divorces that involve a lot of property can take up to two years, which can easily double your lawyer's bill to $20,000.
If you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement in place, dividing property is usually simple. It’s very rare that property division can be successfully contested if the agreement clearly defines who owns what, or who will be granted what property in the event of a divorce. Things become complicated if you don’t have an agreement, but you’ve accumulated property during your marriage.
Your state’s laws will play a role in the way that property is divided. If you live in a community property, most assets acquired after the marriage are considered marital property. This means that everything will need to be divided evenly. If you live in a common law property state, this usually isn’t the case. You’ll be able to assert that property that exists solely in your name cannot be awarded to your spouse.
If you own property with your partner, you need to decide what will happen with that property during your divorce. This sometimes involves selling property (like homes or cars) and splitting the proceeds, which might require hiring contractors or real estate agents. You may also need financial planning services to divide assets and allocate debts.
Determining Custody and Child Support
If you don’t have children or if your children are over the age of 18, you obviously won’t need to worry about custody or child support issues. If your children are nearly adults, you may not find it worthwhile to pursue child custody arrangements or child support.
If your minor children are young, it’s extremely important to determine custody and establish a co-parenting agreement during a divorce. Divorce can be a traumatic experience for an entire family, including the children. Creating a plan to assure that your child’s needs are adequately met throughout the process is of the utmost importance.
You’ll need to work with an attorney or a divorce mediator to establish a child custody arrangement and child support arrangements that work for both parties. Most importantly, you should prioritize the well-being of your children. Their needs are most important.
Additional Requirements of Your Divorce
You may need to attend parenting classes as a part of your divorce. You, your partner, or your children may require mental health counseling. If your divorce goes through family court, the judge can require special classes or counseling sessions as a part of your divorce, and you’re expected to pay for them out of pocket.
What Leads to a More Costly Divorce?
You’re bound to encounter a few obstacles throughout the process of your divorce. It’s very unlikely that you and your partner will immediately agree on every issue. Even if you agree on the majority of things, you’re bound to need a little extra help with certain decisions.
The more disputes you have, the longer and costlier the process will become. Every dispute needs to be resolved, and depending on how you choose to resolve it, you could be racking up some substantial bills. Additional considerations, such as alimony, may come factor into the overall cost depending on the settlement agreement.
Going to Court
If you’re unable to resolve your disputes privately, you need to resolve them in court. Going to court can be extremely expensive when you factor in attorney fees. It can also take a very long time. When you need to settle a dispute in court, you have to take the available dates they give you. This can lead to dispute resolution taking months, or even years, to complete.
Divorce Cost Comparisons
The price of divorce will vary depending on the type of divorce you choose, the number of disputes you encounter, and even the state where you’re filing for divorce. There are a lot of factors at play that will ultimately determine the amount you’ll wind up spending.
In almost every case, there’s a less expensive alternative. If it’s feasible for you and your partner to utilize the simpler alternative, you’ll be able to save a substantial amount of money and time. Discuss the merits of going an alternative route with your partner. You might find that you’re both interested in reducing the amount of financial and emotional stress you face during your divorce.
Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce
A contested divorce is a divorce where partners have disagreements. A contested divorce means getting the court involved. When you have a contested divorce, both partners need lawyers. The judge ultimately has the final say in every matter.
You’ll spend a lot of time in court and a lot of money on legal fees during a contested divorce, especially if you have a lot of matters to settle. The average cost of a contested divorce is upwards of $20,000. It’s often more expensive if you’re settling issues like child custody, child support, and spousal support.
An uncontested divorce is a divorce where both partners enter into the divorce agreeing on everything. There’s no reason for lengthy legal battles, and you won’t need to appear in court as often. An uncontested divorce is much less expensive. It usually doesn’t cost more than $5,000. If you don’t use a lawyer, it can cost less than $1,000.
Mediation vs. Litigation
If you and your partner disagree on important issues during a divorce, you have two options for handling your disagreements. You can choose to deal with them in mediation or in litigation.
Litigation is when each partner hires a divorce attorney to advocate for them. You pay the lawyers to argue each case on your behalf. Eventually, you’ll reach an agreement. The cost of litigation largely depends on how long the litigation goes on. If you can’t reach an agreement, litigation can last for years. You’ll be paying as much as $500 an hour for your lawyer.
Mediation is when you and your partner discuss your issues together. A mediator will help you identify areas of disagreement and suggest possible solutions. The mediator’s purpose is to help you, not to decide the outcome of the situation. The matter is only resolved when you and your partner both find a conclusion you can live with.
Mediation is less expensive because it involves fewer people. You won’t each spend hundreds of dollars an hour for an attorney if you’re able to effectively communicate with each other. Five hours of mediation costs less than what many lawyers charge for one hour of service.
Mediators can also work remotely. You don’t even need to commute to arrange a mediation session. This can help you avoid missing work or paying for childcare.
Online Divorce vs. Attorney Fees
Some people consult an attorney before their divorce begins. You may choose to have your attorney prepare the paperwork to be filed. When you take that route, you’ll be paying for the lawyer’s time to consult with you and complete the necessary forms. You may also have to wait for the paperwork to be prepared. When the attorney completes the paperwork, you bring it to the court and pay the filing fee.
If you file online for a DIY divorce, you’re saving the money an attorney would charge to prepare the paperwork you need to file for divorce. Online tools make it easy for the average person with no legal experience to file for divorce. Since they’re self-service, it’s typically a lot less expensive to use online tools than it is to hire an attorney.
When possible, you should always attempt to handle your divorce with frequent communication. Discuss your needs and wants with your partner and attempt to come to a conclusion you both can live with. If you can’t file an uncontested divorce, try mediation before you bring a lawyer into the situation. It’s less expensive (and often faster) to handle a divorce outside of court and without a lawyer.
If you need a divorce quickly and safety is a concern, law enforcement can help you navigate the situation. You don’t need to save up money to be safe from an abusive situation. There are plenty of resources to help children and parents in potentially dangerous situations.