One of the most common questions people have when they are learning about divorce is, "How much will their divorce cost?"
Unfortunately, there's no simple answer. The costs will vary, depending on such factors as whether or not you and your spouse agree on the major issues, and whether you will require the services of an attorney.
There are ways to get divorced without spending a fortune.
What Does the Average Divorce Cost?
The average divorce cost is a relative term. Different factors determine whether the cost of divorce will be on the high or low end of the spectrum. Things that factor into the cost of a divorce include:
- Where you're getting divorced
- Whether you're using a lawyer for your entire divorce or only part of it
- Whether you have children
- Whether you're doing it yourself
- Whether you're doing your divorce online
- Whether you're using mediation or collaborative divorce
- Whether you agree with your spouse about major issues
- Whether you need to go to trial
What Does Divorce Cost If Both Parties Agree?
If both parties agree on all major issues, known as an uncontested divorce, you can keep the costs relatively low. If you do your own divorce papers and your divorce is amicable, costs could be under $500. Of course, there are filing fees in all states, which increase the cost. Unless you get a waiver based on your income, you must pay filing fees.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost With a Lawyer?
The cost of getting divorced—utilizing the services of a lawyer—varies from several thousand to many thousands of dollars. Lawyers often charge by the hour, but fees vary depending on where you live. For example, a divorce in New York City will cost more than a divorce in Vermont. Hourly rates can vary from several hundred dollars to more than $500.
You can substantially reduce costs, even if you use a lawyer, if you use the lawyer for only part of your case. Unbundled legal services occur when you use a lawyer for just part of your divorce. Also known as limited scope representation, this allows you to decide what part of the divorce you want your lawyer to handle.
Keep in mind that lawyers charge for:
- Phone calls
- Writing and reviewing emails and text messages
- Preparing for court
- Preparing for depositions and discovery
- Preparing and reviewing papers
- Legal research
If you're using a lawyer just for reviewing documents, you will cut thousands of dollars from your bill. You can also agree with your lawyer that you'll only pay for some services and not others. For example, you can agree to pay for preparing and reviewing papers, but not for phone calls and emails.
The cost goes up considerably, from several to many thousands of dollars, if you have a hearing or trial. Sometimes trials require the expense of several expert witnesses. This is why most divorces end up settling, as trials are often too expensive.
Costs also increase if you have children, because custody, visitation, and child support are additional issues you must resolve.
How Much Does Divorce Cost Without a Lawyer?
A good way to save money on your divorce is to do your divorce without a lawyer. In many states, this means being pro se. In California, if you file on your own behalf, you're pro per.
If you have an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse can create your own agreement. Your costs will include filing fees, serving the papers, and the cost of divorce papers if you get the divorce papers online. Online companies will charge for preparation of divorce papers, and some companies can have lawyers review them for you.
If you can get a divorce packet from your court or from your state's website, the papers are usually free.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost by Using Mediation or Collaborative Divorce?
The average cost of a divorce is much less than a trial if you go to mediation, in which you and your spouse meet to resolve issues with a neutral third party. Mediation, however, can still cost anywhere from several thousand dollars to $9,000, depending on how involved it is.
Collaborative divorce is cheaper than a divorce that goes to trial. Collaborative divorce requires that each party get an attorney. You, your spouse, and the two attorneys will sit down in an office, usually for several meetings, and try to settle. Although there are attorneys, if the meetings result in an agreement, you avoid litigation costs.
How Much Does a Legal Separation Cost?
In many cases, a legal separation is as expensive as a divorce. Discuss this with your lawyer to see if there's any advantage to getting separated, or if your state requires a legal separation before divorce.