When most couples get married, divorce is the furthest thing from their mind. However, it’s a sad fact that about 39 percent of marriages end in divorce. If that happens to you, then you’ll have to shoulder some expenses. To put it simply, divorce isn’t cheap under the best of circumstances. And, if the situation is particularly contentious, the costs can be pretty extreme.
What You Pay for When Getting a Divorce
When you get a divorce, there isn’t a flat-fee that covers the entire process regardless of your circumstances. Instead, you pay different costs depending on your situation, aside from a few mandatory expenses.
Regardless of your personal situation, you at least have to pay a filing fee. You handle this charge when you submit your divorce filing to your county courthouse. How much it costs varies. In Wyoming, you may pay less than $100 in some counties. But, in California, you could owe $435.
Now, some low-income families may qualify for fee waivers, allowing them to file for divorce without paying the fee, but that isn’t available to everyone. Plus, that only covers one of the costs you’ll face.
For example, you’ll need the appropriate paperwork to file. If you get this from the county clerk, you may need to pay around $10 for the packet, but some counties also make the paperwork free through their website (if you’re willing to print it yourself) or let you submit it online without an additional cost.
Do It Yourself Divorce
If you use an online DIY divorce paperwork service that isn’t the county’s, then you’ll end up paying a fee. Typically, it runs less than $200 if your divorce is fairly simple, though it can be more expensive if the situation is complex or if you ask for an online consultation with an attorney.
Additionally, one spouse will have to serve the other. At times, this doesn’t result in a significant cost, as the papers can be handed over or mailed. But, if you need a private process server, expect that to come with a bill of around $50.
However, if you need to get a lawyer involved, your costs can be much higher. Usually, attorneys charge by the hour, with the average hourly cost coming in at $270. It’s also common to have to pay a retainer, an expense that can vary dramatically from one lawyer to the next.
There can also be additional costs that you’ll have to shoulder. You may need assistance from various experts over the course of your case. For example, if you have joint real estate holdings, you might need to get an appraiser to formally assess the property’s value. Child custody evaluations can also come with costs, particularly if the divorce is contested.
Average Cost of Divorce in the United States
In total, the average divorce in the United States costs $12,900. Of that, $11,300 was for attorney’s fees, showcasing just how much a lawyer can run. The other $1,600 was various expenses, including court costs and fees for hiring various experts during proceedings.
However, it’s important to understand that even a few incredibly high-profile, highly contentious cases can dramatically influence that average. If you look at the median, instead, those costs are much lower. For example, the total fell to $7,500 when you look at the median divorce cost. Of that, $7,000 went to lawyers while the remaining $500 covered other fees.
It’s also important to note that settling instead of having a court battle makes a difference. If a contested divorce results in a settlement, it costs an average of $10,600. But, if it goes to court, the cost nearly doubles, coming in between $20,379 and $23,300, depending on the number of issues.
When a divorce is uncontested, the total cost falls dramatically. The average comes in at $4,100, which is about a third of the overall average.
But it’s also possible to pay less. Going the DIY approach when you don’t have children or a ton of joint assets (like real estate and investment accounts) can be surprisingly inexpensive. It may cost as little as a few hundred dollars.
How to Keep the Cost of Divorce Down
If you need to get a divorce but want to keep the process from costing you a ton, there are things you can do. First, if you qualify for a filing fee waiver, get one. While it may only save you a few hundred bucks or less, there’s no need to spend that if you don’t have to.
Second, try to be amicable. When a divorce isn’t contested, and there aren’t many arguments about how to divide your lives, the process is smoother. In some cases, you may be able to avoid lawyers entirely. You are legally allowed to create your own agreement with your soon-to-be ex-spouse without any legal representation. But, even if you can’t forgo attorneys, you won’t need them for as many hours, and that helps.
Finally, if you do need a lawyer, try to focus your contact. You can choose to go the “limited scope representation” route. With that arrangement, the attorney only handles specific parts of your divorce, such as only reviewing documents, handling child custody paperwork, or other pre-selected tasks.
Also, don’t call immediately for every question. When it comes to billable hours, most lawyers round-up in specific increments, such as half-hours. If that’s the case, a five-minute phone call will result in a full half-hour charge. As a result, it’s best to only reach out when you have enough to discuss to justify the expense.
Did you know that the cost of divorce could be so expensive? If you’ve been divorced, were your costs similar? Let us know in the comments below.
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