The average total cost of getting a divorce is $12,900. While this may seem high, keep in mind that a few divorces are very high and this tends to skew the average cost. Larger divorce cases require a lawyer who is able to hire legal personnel to assist her.
Legal fees can skyrocket when you have a bitter and contested divorce. For example, disputes over child support, child custody, and the division of property and debts can all lead to higher divorce costs.
There are local filing fees that can range in price. Therefore, it’s more expensive to file for divorce in some locations than in others. You may need to pay extra for a child custody evaluation.
The more issues that you are able to resolve with your partner out of court, such as child custody and the division of assets, the less likely that your divorce is likely to cost. If you file an uncontested divorce, also known as a simple divorce, doing so may even cost you less than $500 if you write and file your divorce papers. However, there are some state fees regardless of how contested your divorce is.
Doing Everything On Your Own
You may try to file for divorce on your own without a lawyer. However, many divorcing couples struggle to identify all of their assets and decide which assets should belong to who. Divorcing entirely out of court and without legal representation typically only makes sense for couples who don’t have any children, own their own cars, and rent their home.
Serving Divorce Papers
Your case or your papers need to be filed to your spouse. When you file a petition for divorce yourself, you must submit a petition and summons to the local sheriff’s department or you may have a private process serve the papers. The cost of a private process server delivering the papers is typically $50.
One way to save time and money is to choose divorce mediation. Mediation is only one-tenth of the cost of having a divorce through the court system. When your divorce ruling is imposed on your partner by a judge or lawyer, your ex-spouse is more likely to file an appeal or request a modification.
Both of these can cost more money. While the courts have set rules for how they will require you to divide your assets, mediation allows you to come to a more creative agreement that takes into consideration the needs of both you and your spouse.
Collaborative law refers to the practice of working with legal and financial professionals who have been trained to work with divorcing couples in a collaborative way. Because uncontested divorce is less expensive, these types of professionals can save you money.
Contested divorces cost more money in lawyer and court fees because the law firm has to spend more time helping you make legal decisions and you will have to pay for your lawyer to represent you in court. As a result, the judge assigned to your case will do everything possible to encourage you and your partner to resolve matters outside of court before you are forced to take your case to trial.
Going to trial can end up costing as much as $20,000. For example, the courts will require guardian ad litem to investigate your case. You will typically need to pay a GAL fee for this that can cost several thousand dollars.
How Attorneys Bill Their Clients
In most cases, attorneys will bill a client once for an entire divorce. In some cases, an attorney might bill a client an hourly rate. An hourly rate might be $150 an hour. However, if you are undergoing a difficult or complicated divorce, the rate may be as much as $650. You will likely be charged about $1,000 for an uncontested divorce. For a contested divorce, you are more likely to pay at least $2,500.
When you hire a divorce lawyer, she will offer you a consultation. This is sometimes for free. In other cases, the initial consultation will likely last 15 minutes and you may be billed half of a billable hour. This will likely cost a few hundred dollars.
If you are struggling to afford a lawyer, one option is to seek a lawyer who is willing to work pro bono. Another option is to work with a lawyer will provide you with less expensive limited scope representation.
Expensive and Complicated Divorce Example #1: Child Custody
Child custody battles are the most common complication that can make a divorce more expensive. Many bitter divorces involve divorcing parties arguing that either side is abusive or neglectful. One partner may choose to get a restraining order against the other as a way to bar that individual from seeing his or her children.
One partner may also move out of state in an attempt to bar the other parent access to the child. Child custody battles are tragic because they not only hurt both parents and cost a lot of money but also hurt the children involved. Because you will need to determine the living arrangement of your child, you may need to seek temporary orders for the court regarding custody. The custody arrangement may be modified later on.
For example, the courts might rule that you have visitation rights, but the other parent may often be late when bringing your child. She might also say nasty things about you in an attempt to turn your child against you. She might claim that your child doesn’t want to see you.
You may need to hire a lawyer and have all of your communication go through her. If you notice that your ex is attempting any dirty tricks, contact your lawyer rather than attempting to retaliate. That way, you can ensure that everything that you say is something that will not affect your odds of losing custody. However, communicating entirely through a lawyer can become expensive.
If the courts have awarded you sole custody, you may then be entitled to child support. First, you will need to establish fatherhood. This is easy if you were already married. However, if paternity was always in dispute, you may need a genetic test. These can range from $100 to $2,000.
Once you have established paternity, you may then pay the fee as set by state law to establish a child support order.
Expensive and Complicated Divorce Example #2: Business Disputes
You may have started a business together with your partner that has become profitable. If the business is the main source of income for both you and your spouse, this can make your divorce more complicated and expensive. If you both wish to completely cut ties on the business end of things, you may choose to buy out your ex. However, this can make the divorce more complicated when you cannot agree to an amount that you will purchase the business for.
Another option is for both of you to sell the business and split the profits. This is very simple because you will both simply split the profits from the sale of the business down the middle. However, you might have a dispute over how much your business is worth or who you may wish to sell it to.
The third option is to simply continue owning the business together while divorced. This is rare but may happen in the case of an amicable divorce. Another option is for one partner to run the business and for the other to simply continue to receive a share of the profits. Either of these arrangements can be less expensive with a divorce involving a business venture.
Expensive and Complicated Divorce Example #3: Alimony
Alimony, more commonly referred to today as spousal support, requires that one partner make regular payments to his or her ex. This is not mandatory in most states but some judges will order alimony if the other partner will face hardship. However, if both you and your partner are self-sufficient or if your marriage was very short, the judge may not order alimony.
If you do not wish to pay alimony, you may need to hire a lawyer to build a case for why your partner is not entitled to alimony. For example, you may be able to avoid alimony if you prove that your spouse was adulterous.
Even if your partner wasn’t adulterous, if you have evidence that he/she might have a new relationship, the courts might not require that you pay alimony. You may also need the judge to evaluate the fitness of your ex-spouse to work. Finally, you may not have to pay alimony if your ex-spouse does not have custody of your kids. You may need to speak with a family law attorney to prove that you are not obligated to pay alimony.
Divorce as a whole can be expensive, and products such as divorce insurance have been making their way into the marketplace.
Expensive and Complicated Divorce Example #4: Fighting Over the Home
One of the common questions in divorce is “who will get the house?” This is an important question because the house is often the largest asset that you may jointly own. Also, you may wonder where you or your ex-spouse may end up living after the divorce. If you have children, you may be concerned about how moving may affect them.
If you aren’t concerned about keeping the house and are happy to look for another home, the easiest solution is to sell your home and split the proceeds from the home sale with your ex-spouse.
If you feel a sentimental attachment toward your home and wish to fight for it, you may find that this is a very expensive decision. You may be forced to give up other assets and you may not even be able to afford the monthly payments. After fighting for your home, the bank might repossess the house.
One of the obstacles you may encounter is financial fraud on the part of your ex-spouse, especially if you have significant assets. For example, your ex-spouse may have assets that he was concealing and which you are entitled to.
Forensic accounting professionals can investigate trace the paper trail funds through various accounts held by your ex-spouse. They can also determine the validity of a particular claim involving the dissipation of a marital asset.
You must also have a financial expert review your ex-spouse’s:
- Bank statements
- Business ledgers
- Appraisals of properties owned
- Retirement accounts
- Credit card statements
In some cases, your ex-spouse may not have committed fraud on purpose. For example, if he was an employee of a company and forgot to declare certain fringe benefits, you may be entitled to them.
If both you and your ex-spouse have a large number of assets, there is a greater number of areas where assets may be hidden. This can include:
- Unfunded trusts
- Shell corporations
- Unknown safe deposits
- Hidden brokerage accounts
- Hidden online accounts
- Life insurance vehicles
Uncovering all of the assets that you may be entitled to can be difficult without paying for professionals who can perform the detective work necessary to find these assets. However, there are some warning signs that you may notice.
You may notice that your mail is being rerouted to an office or another location. Your partner may be spending more time on the computer and closing the screen when you walk by. You may catch him telling lies or stories that do not make sense. You may discover that he is concealing transactions. He may be giving out loans without your knowledge or withdrawing money from your bank account.
While divorce is expensive, can take years to complete, and is very emotionally devastating, it’s essential to plan carefully as you take these next steps.