Why is Divorce So Expensive? 5 Reasons from Laura Wasser

By Divorce.com staff
Updated Dec 21, 2022


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An old joke begins with this question: Why is divorce so expensive?

The answer? Because it's worth it.

This joke may not go over as well today as it did back in the day. However, it speaks to the truth; divorce can be expensive.

Divorce is emotional, too. It is heartbreaking, frustrating, scary, and sad. Also, moving on from a romantic, familial relationship through a contentious legal proceeding is a recipe for anxiety and unreasonableness.

Enter the family law attorney. As legal professionals, we are in the unique position of shepherding individuals through this challenging legal procedure with our legal help and billing them for it.

The more conflict there is, the more challenging it is for our clients and the more billable hours we log. Although I doubt that attorneys intentionally take advantage of the fact that we are billing clients based on their level of conflict, we profit when the divorce process takes longer to resolve.

However, divorce does not need to be expensive, financially or emotionally. A cost-effective approach can work, too. Unfortunately, many factors prevent most couples from benefiting from these.

Why are Divorces So Expensive? The 5 Most Common Reasons

Conflict equals expense

Divorce laws are also complicated, antiquated, and, sometimes, feel unfair, which only adds to the discord involved with the divorce process. Worse, the unknown is difficult for many couples, introducing frustration and stress. None of these emotions are doing you any favors to avoid conflict and achieve resolution.

However, the inability to agree on issues or the propensity to create problems where none exist drives the cost of legal fees in a divorce. In my private practice, I often tell clients, "The more you argue, the more money you pay your spouse's attorney and me."

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Frequent phone calls

Clients sometimes need someone to talk to about what has happened in their failing marriage. They need someone outside of the conflict to hear their side of the story.

Sometimes there are questions that clients have. These questions range from procedural to philosophical. The client's natural reflex is to call their attorney to leverage the lawyer's legal expertise.

Most divorce lawyers are happy to talk to clients, answer questions, and provide a sympathetic ear when their clients need them to be. However, they are not handling the divorce—or those phone calls— pro bono. Those conversations add up to many billable hours and additional legal expenses. Be sure to find a good emotional support system that is less expensive or no cost. Mental health professionals typically bill at lower hourly rates than attorneys. Friends and family are well qualified to be supportive, listen to you vent or provide a shoulder to cry on. Your family law attorney’s time should be used efficiently.

Fees and more fees

There is no shortage of fees to pay. Divorcing couples have filing fees to pay, in addition to any attorney's fees for preparing the divorce paperwork.

In some cases, forensic accountants, business and real estate appraisers, divorce coaches and child custody custody evaluator fees are involved. While these can be extremely helpful for everyone involved, their costs are part of the divorce bill.

Couples that take their divorce proceedings straight to court will discover it is a slow and expensive process. Plus, the COVID pandemic still has many courts in a backlog, making it even slower (and more costly) than it was.

Some states cost more than others, too. For example, California charges $435 to file for a divorce, which is one of the highest state fees. So whether you file on your own or after paying a pile of attorney fees, you will pay the state fee to get a divorce. We are currently seeing a shortage of court reporters in Los Angeles County and litigants have to bring or pay for their own.

Two households with two sets of expenses

Both partners that used to share a household, and the related costs associated with it, now have separate living arrangements—and no additional financial support. That means another mortgage or lease, different utilities, and individual expenses for professional services once pooled together.

All the soft costs of a household double, too. Separate households also mean needing two of everything. So, each spouse will have to replace the appliances or furnishings they didn't get from the shared household. Plus, if there are children, there will need to be a place for them in each home. And don't forget about things like moving expenses and utility deposits.

All of these expenses are more than what you had before. It can hit your budget hard because these expenses add up when many households subtract an income.

Real estate fees

It isn't unusual for couples to decide to sell their shared home as part of the division of assets. However, selling a home has its own set of expenses, too. For example, there are appraiser fees and listing agent fees. Also, repairs or staging might be required before putting the house on the market, which adds to the total.

Once the home sells, there are costs for the agents. And don't forget the moving expenses associated with the divorce, times two, of course, since the spouses are moving to separate homes.

Even if a couple decides that one partner will buy the other one out of the home, there are fees. For example, there are costs associated with refinancing and changing the title.

Ways to Reduce the Cost of Divorce

It doesn't have to be this expensive. There are ways to reduce the cost of divorce, including:

  • Getting familiar with your state's laws: Educating yourself about the laws in your state regarding the division of assets, support, and custody if you have children, is an essential step toward resolution. Knowing the law allows you to apply the facts of your situation to decide how to approach the issues in your case.
  • Agree without outside help whenever possible: Resolving things with your spouse out of court and without attorneys is another way to reduce divorce costs. Moreover, creative thinking about solutions that work for your family regarding custody and child support will often yield a better result for you both.
  • Use mediation services: If you have conflicts that you cannot resolve on your own, use a mediator, which is a neutral third party that helps you come to a win-win agreement. The mediator aims to provide each person with information and focus on their common interests. Plus, they are generally less expensive than lawyers.
  • Embrace the collaborative divorce: Like mediation, a collaborative divorce is focused on resolving the divorce agreement outside of court. Your lawyers will hammer out a deal, including issues regarding financial support and child custody, and submit it to the court rather than filing motions and having the judge determine the outcome. Staying out of court as much as possible is a way to keep divorce costs down.
  • Find resources that can help: In some situations, pro bono (free) representation from specialized law firms can help you through the process. These programs are for couples at or below the poverty line and victims of domestic abuse or part of a particular group. Another option can be Limited Assistance Representation, which only uses lawyers when necessary, having the client step in for more of the simpler tasks and straightforward divorce forms.
  • Be organized: When you don't have paperwork available or drag your feet getting it to your legal team, you can rack up unnecessary expenses. To avoid this, staying organized and doing what your lawyer asks when your lawyer asks can keep the costs to a minimum.
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Why Divorce.com?

At Divorce.com, we try to take the emotion and the mystery out of the equation and get to the application. We have different packages where you choose the level of involvement necessary to get through the process and on to your next chapter.

  • For as low as $299, divorcing couples with an uncontested divorce can use our easy 3-step online solution which provides court-ready, personalized documents and a detailed filing guide in as little as two business days.
  • Couples also have access to on-demand mediation to help settle some details of the agreement.
  • If legal expertise is required, our trusted network of independent attorneys give Divorce.com customers a minimum of 25% off their standard hourly rates.

Having practiced family law for nearly three decades, I feel qualified to say that a better way to handle uncontested divorce is available to couples that have made the difficult decision to end their marriages. We at Divorce.com can help get you to where you and your family need to be. Moreover, we can do it with less conflict, headache, and expense than you ever thought possible.

Worth it or not, divorce can be expensive. But wouldn't it be great if it didn't have to be?

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