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On average, a divorce costs about $15,000 for each spouse, with prices ranging anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 in the US for 2019. *Disclaimer – this is not an actual quote for your divorce. Legal fees are estimates. The estimates are based on similar types of cases. There is no guarantee as to legal fees or costs in any case, and there is no guarantee as to the outcome of any case. You should consult an attorney for an evaluation of your individual case, as the costs and outcomes can vary from case to case. Contact Moshier Law at 480-999-0800 for more information.
Making the decision to end your marriage is never simple or easy, but one of the major factors beyond the societal and emotional relationship’s ending is the cost. In a lot of cases, the legal fees are the biggest expense in a divorce. Planning ahead will save you money in the long run.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost on Average in 2019?
The national average cost of a divorce is about $15,000 each. This includes court costs, attorneys’ fees, and the cost of hiring outside professionals such as tax advisers, child custody assessors, and/or real estate appraisers.
The time it takes to get divorced is a big determining factor of the overall cost. For example, the average divorce takes somewhere between 4 months and 11 months. And if there is a trial, it can take beyond a year.
What Factors Influence the Cost of Divorce?
The average cost of divorce is a difficult question to answer. The cost depends on a couple of factors – whether you both agree on particular things, and if either of you needs or wants to hire an attorney.
Factors influencing the average cost include:
- The hourly rate of attorneys versus a retainer fee
- If the divorce is uncontested or contested
- Child(ren) custody assessment
- The location of where the divorce is being filed, and the local filing fees
- Child(ren) custody
- Spousal Support
One thing to understand is that a divorce is, basically, a lawsuit. Once one partner files for divorce, they’re suing for divorce.
What if You Both Agree?
The more unresolved issues or factors by the one filing for divorce and the other person, like custody or children’s care or property maintenance, or other shared holdings like pensions, investments, financial support, it is more likely to cost the person filing for divorce. The more resolved issues by each party, it is likely to cost less.
If you both agree on major issues, you can file for an uncontested divorce – the least costly – which could cost you under $500 if you file and write your own divorce documents. Each state charges their own costs for filing for divorce, even uncontested filings, so an exact cost is unforeseen. A lot of states can also grant the one filing a filing fee waiver based on income. For uncontested divorces, if the state where either of you file has a required waiting period, once that is completed, the divorce is final. An uncontested divorce is the least costly, and the most direct because there are no lawyers or mediators needed to help each party agree with the other.
The Average Cost of a Divorce Not Using a Lawyer
The filing fee is the minimum charge on a divorce. Filing fees may be from around $70, the lowest, in Wyoming, to $435 in California. If you hire a lawyer, these fees are typically part of the retainer.
Not many couples can identify, agree on, and respectfully divide assets in a divorce devoid of a lawyer. If there are no children involved, and there aren’t many assets – if you got married owning your own cars and renting your home, for example – and agree that no alimony is needed for either party since, it was a short-lived marriage, and you can do it online yourself.
One person is required to file a legal request for the dissolution of marriage with the local county court clerk. As said before, each court has a filing fee. The average is $300, but may be around $500 in some states, such as California.
When filing a divorce appeal, you are also required to serve the divorce papers, to the other. In a divorce case, the papers can be served by mail or in person. In online cases, the “do-it-yourself” divorce, the person who initially filed the request, typically submits the summons and a petition with the local sheriff’s department for the papers to be served by law enforcement or organizes for a private process server to serve the request – a signature from the other person declaring that they want to contest it or agree to the terms. Using a private process server to serve the other typically costs around $50.
A lot of states, such as California, have resources online for filing for divorce, including forms for responding to a divorce filing. Some state websites have sources for filing online for a support request, an annulment, or to end or change the order for child or spousal support.
The Average Cost of a Divorce Using a Lawyer
If there are considerable assets to divide, spousal support, or child custody to decide, each party typically benefits by hiring their own lawyer.
Hiring a lawyer raises the cost for each party. With a lawyer, the divorce could cost you a couple of thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, on the condition of how much of the lawyer’s time you’re billed. Lawyer fees, charged by the hour, may range from a few hundred dollars each hour to upwards of $500. For a lot of lawyers, a 15-minute consultation over the phone, or an email, could cost you a fraction of a chargeable hour. A half-hour may cost you a charged hour. Lawyers charge for emails, phone calls, court preparation, text messages, depositions (interviewing others on record), discovery (gathering information from the others lawyer associated with your divorce), document prep and examination, and research.
Lawyers bill an average of about $1,000 for an uncontested divorce. In states with high standards of living, like New York or California, lawyers may charge an average of $3,500-$5,000 to assist you in completing an uncontested divorce. A contested divorce — in which critical issues like asset division and child support or custody, or even getting divorced, cannot be agreed on — may cost from an average of $2,500 up to a couple of thousand dollars or more. In contested divorces, the issues may, at the end of the day, need to be handled in front of a judge. Divorces that go to trial may cost couples upwards of $20,000 on average to finish, with a minimum of $15,000 going towards attorneys’ fees. Settling a divorce case without going to court can cost around $15,000.
Many lawyers charge a retainer or flat fee to assist with a divorce, but more commonly family law attorneys charge an average of $150-$250 each hour, although some might charge up to $650 or more an hour to help their clients during a difficult or complex divorce, like one where couples own businesses or other more complicated mutual assets. A retainer will cover a lot of the court fees, filing fees, and the lawyers’ time to talk in person, communicate with you by text, phone or email, and to appear in court or other procedures in person.
A contested divorce that involves children that requires lawyers to help hash out custody details, will cost more because of the lawyer’s time. Typically, the more time a child(ren) spends with one parent, the less child support payments that parent will have to pay. But in contested divorces where there is no agreeing on a schedule or child custody, the courts might demand a child custody assessment be done by an experienced psychologist that will interview both parents individually. The psychologist will also talk to the children and observe them with each parent at home. If the child custody assessor works for the count, the assessment will cost an average of around $1,000-$2,500. If it is a private assessor, the cost could be $10,000 or more.
Spousal support decisions may also take lots of time and raise the cost to the spouses.
There are ways to cut costs by using a lawyer for only a fraction of your case: also known as ‘limited scope representation.’ You may have your lawyer just examine documents or deal with your lawyer what you won’t pay for and what you will, like agreeing to use the lawyer to prep and examine documents but not to bill you for texts, emails or phone calls.
A trial or hearing also clearly increases the costs. Trials may increase costs to you for multiple expert witnesses, and the expense of going to trial by itself usually ends in divorce cases being settled without going to court. Because of this, judges in a lot of states appointed to contested divorce cases need spouses to do everything in their power to come to a settlement agreement and avoid a trial, since a trial costs not just the couple getting divorced but also the state and city where the divorce is happening.
If there are children involved, between you two or even individually, expenses increase with agreements needing to be reached or resolved in regard to visitation rights, child support, and child custody.
Devoid of these issues, a divorce among two people in agreement will save both parties’ costs. It is for this reason why an uncontested divorce is the least costly.
If both parties can agree on the primary issues of the divorce, you may create your own agreement. The sole cost would be for filing fees, serving papers, and the expense of divorce papers if you acquire them online. Getting them online you will be charged for arranging divorce papers, but they may also have lawyers go over them on your behalf. Many courts may give you a divorce package for free.
In addition to an uncontested divorce, another way to save money and stay away from trial would be to utilize the mediation of a collaborative divorce.
In mediation, you both avoid trial by mediating with an unbiased 3rd party, a mediator.
Since it involves a 3rd party, typically a professional mediator, former judge, attorney-mediator, or former commissioner, mediation may still end up costing between a couple thousand and $10,000 dollars, on average, depending on the mediation time and what is involved. Mediation typically costs an average of $100-$300 per hour.
A collaborative divorce is less costly than going to trial. In a collaborative divorce, each party retains attorneys. Your spouse, you, and both of your attorneys get together to discuss contested portions of the divorce. If you both eventually come to agreements, while the attorneys will still cost, it will save you the cost of litigation.
- Miller, Terin. “How Much Does a Divorce Cost on Average in 2019?” TheStreet, 8 Mar. 2019, https://www.thestreet.com/personal-finance/education/how-much-does-divorce-cost-14882536.
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