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How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

Because divorces can range from very simple legal matters to very complex ones, it's impossible to provide a universal answer to the question, "How much does a divorce cost?" The cost of your divorce will vary, depending on a number of factors. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • An uncontested divorce will usually cost less than a contested divorce
  • If you and your spouse are on good terms with one another, your divorce will cost less than if you disagree about key issues
  • Divorces that involve minor children usually cost more than divorces with no children or with adult children
  • If you and your spouse have a lot of community property and cannot agree how to divide it, your divorce will probably cost more money
  • If one spouse is requesting alimony, your divorce costs may increase

Estimating the Legal Costs of Divorce

Attorneys bill for their work in several different ways, including charging clients by the hour and charging a flat fee for legal work that's performed. Most lawyers prefer to charge an hourly fee for work that is unpredictable in nature. Flat fee agreements are more common for simple tasks with a clearly defined scope, such as writing a will.

If you have a simple, uncontested divorce that doesn't involve spousal support or child custody issues, you may be able to hire an attorney for a flat fee. Similarly, if you only hire an attorney to handle certain parts of your divorce--such as reviewing a custody agreement--you may be able to negotiate a flat fee. But if you want to hire an attorney to handle a more complicated divorce from start to finish, you'll almost certainly be charged an hourly rate.

An attorney's hourly rate will vary depending on a number of factors, including the attorney's experience, the type of legal work being performed and the part of the country in which you live. Hourly rates can be as low as $100 an hour for certain types of legal work in some parts of the country, but typical hourly rates are several hundreds of dollars. It's important to realize that cheaper does not necessarily mean better. A more experienced attorney may be able to perform work more quickly than a less experienced lawyer who's charging a lower hourly rate but taking more time to complete a task.

After getting an overview of your case, a lawyer you are considering hiring should be able to provide you with an estimate of what your divorce will cost.

Some attorneys may ask you to make an advance payment, called a retainer, when hired. The retainer is held in a special trust account, and your legal fees and expenses will be deducted from this account as they accrue. In most instances, retainers are not refundable, so do not hire an attorney and pay a retainer unless you are comfortable with your choice of lawyer.

Filing Fees and Other Expenses

In addition to your legal fees, you'll also have to pay a fee to file for divorce. This fee varies by region, but generally costs from $100 to $400.

Your attorney should be able to provide an estimate of other fees you may incur. These vary from case to case, and can include:

  • The cost of a mediator and accountant, if necessary
  • Photocopying, scanning and mailing costs
  • The cost of an independent child custody evaluator, if necessary
  • Travel expenses, if necessary

Keeping Costs Under Control

If you are on a tight budget, you will probably want to do everything possible to minimize expenses associated with your divorce. Don't be embarrassed to discuss your financial situation with your attorney and let him or her know if money is tight. Your lawyer may be able to suggest ways to help you cut costs during your divorce.

If your attorney bills by the hour, it's also important to remember that every time you contact your attorney with a question, you're incurring a charge. Think twice before picking up the phone or sending an e-mail, and do independent research if you think you could find the answer to your question elsewhere. You might also consider keeping a list of non-urgent questions and only contacting your attorney once you have several questions to ask.

You can also request that your spouse pay some or all of your legal fees. If your spouse refuses, you can ask the judge to order your spouse to pay your legal costs. This is most common when one spouse is in a much better financial position than the other spouse.