An uncontested DIY divorce could cost $300. For a messy, high-stakes parting, add zeros (knowing that the sum will be short of Jeff Bezos’ $38 billion). When the nuptial knot frays, average divorce costs add up to several thousand. So how much does divorce cost, really?
Specifically, $13,000, on average, when a full-service lawyer handles the split, Nolo found. But all kinds of factors, from attorney fees to assets, influence the bottom line.
Here are details about types of divorce and what to expect cost-wise with each.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Divorce?
The cost of a divorce can depend on which state you live in, how amicable the parting is, and whether you work with a divorce attorney, own property together, and have children, among others.
Most cases settle before going to trial. Here are common costs if you need to prepare for a divorce.
Without an Attorney
A DIY uncontested divorce is the cheapest option. You and your spouse submit paperwork to your local family court, then fill out and file required documents.
DivorceNet found that the median cost of a DIY divorce is only $300. That could be because many filers who don’t hire a lawyer have no contested issues.
There is also the option of online assistance. In an uncontested divorce, an online service could add $150 to $1,500, LegalZoom says.
With an Attorney
A lawyer can only work with one client at a time, so two attorneys are required if both spouses want their own representation.
A divorce attorney will usually ask for a retainer, or down payment, of $2,500 to $5,000, and will charge from that. If the retainer runs out, the lawyer may bill by the hour. Hourly fees may range from $150 to $400 or more per hour, according to LegalZoom.
A reader survey by Nolo, a publisher that specializes in legal content, found that the average cost of a divorce handled by a full-scope attorney was $12,900, with $11,300 of that lawyer fees. The median, though, was $7,500, including $7,000 in attorney fees.
Of course, the longer it takes to reach a final judgment, the higher your heap of attorney fees will be.
If you’re dealing with a more convoluted situation and don’t feel comfortable filing yourself, but don’t want to shell out money for a divorce lawyer, you could consider working with a mediator.
In this form of divorce, both spouses work with a neutral third party who has a handle on the financial and legal aspects of divorce and oversees the process.
A non-attorney mediator may charge $100 to $350 an hour, with a couple’s total mediation bill coming in anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000, according to DivorceNet.
Free or low-cost mediation services are often provided by courts, nonprofit organizations, and bar associations.
In this hybrid of mediation and a traditional divorce using lawyers, each spouse is represented by a collaborative divorce attorney. The goal is to help both parties work toward a mutually satisfactory outcome and, if children are involved, one that keeps their best interests in mind.
Both parties commit, in writing, to using cooperative dispute resolution techniques.
Collaborative divorce is more comprehensive in scope than mediation, and the cost can start at $10,000, according to LegalZoom.
If the process fails, both attorneys must withdraw from the case, and the couple will need to hire new lawyers and continue through family law court proceedings.
If you can’t afford to hire a full-scope divorce attorney, you might be able to hire a consulting attorney for specific tasks. The average total fees for consulting attorneys were $4,600, and the median was $3,000, Nolo’s survey found.
Source: Martindale-Nolo Research’s 2019 divorce survey
Who Pays for the Divorce?
Most of the time, each spouse pays their own attorney fees and costs.
In select cases involving income disparities or one party unnecessarily complicating the proceedings, a judge may order a spouse to pay his or her partner’s divorce costs, LegalZoom says.
The following are some of the factors that affect the costs of a divorce.
In a contested divorce, the issue of child custody will likely come up. If the couple is able to agree on a child custody schedule that works for both parents, that is usually the easiest path forward.
For divorces involving children that require an attorney to iron out custody details, costs tend to increase significantly thanks to the additional time spent working with parents to reach an agreement.
A contested divorce involving custody could also include working with a court-assigned professional, who may interview the parents and children, observe each parent at home with the kids, and make an evaluation based on their findings.
A county custody evaluation could cost between $1,000 and $2,500. A private review could run $15,000 or more, according to DivorceNet.
Couples who share a property may require the help of real estate attorneys or agents who focus on helping couples ascertain the disposition of their homes.
A home appraisal is an unbiased, third-party estimate of a property’s value. It can cost between $300 and $400, HomeAdvisor says.
Sometimes couples opt to refinance the mortgage on the marital home into one name, releasing the other spouse from obligation. The cost of refinancing can be several thousand dollars.
Another potential consideration in a divorce may be alimony, or spousal support.
If both individuals can’t agree on the amount of payment and the time payments are to be made, the court may have to step in.
That can involve litigation and a review of debts and finances. Since the process requires legal counsel, alimony decisions can quickly drive up divorce expenses.
Source: Martindale-Nolo Research’s 2019 divorce survey
Do Divorce Lawyers Offer Payment Plans?
Some family lawyers do offer payment plans, Experian says. The time to ask about that is during an initial consultation.
In most situations, paying for a divorce can be a major stressor.
If you and your spouse are on OK terms and have savings, you could consider pooling together as much as you can to put toward divorce costs. You could also ask to borrow money from relatives or friends. In some cases, couples may know that divorce is looming and start saving for it ahead of time, as unpleasant as that may be.
Some people may opt to put their divorce costs on a credit card and pay the debt over time, with interest. An option that may be more cost-effective is a personal loan.
A personal loan has several potential advantages. The interest rate could be lower than a credit card, depending on your credit score. Most personal loans come with a fixed interest rate, which makes budgeting easier.
And a personal loan might allow you to borrow a significant amount of money and have several years to pay it off.
How much does a divorce cost? A good answer might be: More than most people hope it will be. Let’s just say average divorce costs are in the thousands.
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