When you and your spouse decide to divorce, there are many things to consider. Do you need to go to court? Do you need to hire a lawyer? Should you go through a mediator? Can you do it on your own?
How much does a divorce cost, and how does your choice of approach impact that cost?
Anticipating the total cost of your divorce depends upon how you go about the process of creating your divorce agreement. In this article, we’ll break down the various ways you can go about legally ending your marriage and give you a cost comparison.
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Separating ‘Ours’ into ‘Yours and Mine’
The process of getting a divorce is taking everything that once belonged to a single household and dividing it into two households. This includes your assets, your property, your debts, your obligations, and your responsibilities (such as childcare). The more things there are to divide, the longer the process will take. If you choose a lawyer, a mediator, or to go to court, every hour you and your spouse spend deliberating adds to your overall divorce bill. You can’t be sure how much you’ll pay until you get the final bill from your attorney.
The Average Cost of Divorce, Nationally
Unfortunately, the traditional approach to divorce–both sides hiring an attorney–is expensive. According to Martindale-Nolo, the average cost for divorce attorney fees is $11,300 per spouse, or $22,600 total. Add in an average of $1,480 per spouse for court fees, filing costs and other expenses, and divorce with attorneys costs a whopping $25,560. That is a big hit on most family savings.
Divorce is even more expensive if you have children. Martindale-Nolo reported that attorneys fees when you have children are $31,000 for both spouses combined. This brings the total cost including other expenses to almost $35,000.
Another uncertainty when working with attorneys is you never know how much you’re going to pay. They charge by the hour so as soon as they use your initial, upfront retainer, you then have to send another check.
Mediation can save money, but again the final cost will be unknown. Most mediators charge by the hour and fees can be anywhere from $200 to $500 per hour (or more). Martindale-Nolo found mediation costs typically can run as high as $8,000, and this is before paying for document preparation, court costs and filing fees. Even mediation is an expensive proposition, depending on the complexity of your case.
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The Cost of Divorce in California
It’s not surprising divorce tends to be more expensive in California, due to the higher cost of living and higher pay scale for professionals in the state.
The average cost of divorce in California is $12,500 – $15,300 per spouse, or $25,000 to $30,600 total. Add in average other expenses of $4,000, and divorce typically costs families in the $30,000 to $35,000 range. Even in California that can have a major impact on family finances.
As you might expect, going to court makes things even more expensive. Martindale-Nolo found that couples who bring just two or more disputes before a judge in California can expect total attorney fees to be as much as $50,000–or more.
Time is Money
The average time to get divorced in the US is 12-15 months. It’s not a quick process.
Why does divorce take so long?
Unfortunately meetings with lawyers, going back and forth on proposals, waiting to schedule hearings and filling out endless court documents takes a lot of your time and a lot of your lawyer’s time. The process also tends to inflame emotions and stoke conflict, which only makes it take longer to reach an agreement.
Divorce in California takes even longer than the national average. The Martindale-Nolo survey found divorce in California takes three months longer than the national average. And if you have disagreements, it’s worse. For Californians taking at least one issue to court, that average went up to 18 months.
In a game where time is money, extra time quickly translates into extra money spent by couples looking to end their marriage.
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The Cost of Custody Disputes
Deciding how to divide the rights and responsibilities of parenthood during a divorce can be a complex issue. Couples with children file more paperwork, have more disputes, and therefore take longer to create settlement agreements than their child-free counterparts. They spend longer with mediators and lawyers, and if they go to trial, they spend more time in the courtroom.
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice. If you require legal advice, please contact a licensed attorney in your local area.