It is difficult to provide an exact amount because each couple and each case is unique. These differences account for varying costs and expenses involved in the divorce process.
This comprehensive guide aims to provide information on the costs involved in the divorce process, including but not limited to mandatory court filing fees, attorneys fees, and other costs involved in filing a divorce case.
Court Fees for a Divorce
The court requires that a couple pay filing fees at the time a divorce case is filed. Depending on the state and county, each party may be required to pay a fee, or the court might charge one fee for the entire case. The fees are payable directly to the court and vary by state and county. Before filing your case, be sure to check the amount of court fees for a divorce case at the clerk’s office at your local county court.
Typically, if the filing spouse can’t afford to pay the filing fee, a filing fee waiver can be filed with the court. This document provides evidence that the party or parties are low income and that they need the court to waive the fee that’s normally required when a divorce case is filed.
A divorce filing fee is a basic divorce cost charged by the court to file the initial divorce papers and to open a case. If you’re wondering how much the filing fee is for a divorce case, the answer is that it depends on the state where your divorce is being filed.
In the US, average court filing fees vary by state. For instance, fees range from $50 in Mississippi to $435 in California. In addition, different courts within the state can charge different fees, depending on the county.
These costs can be kept to a minimum if spouses are qualified to file for divorce jointly, as co-petitioners (though not all the US states recognize such an option).
How Filing Fees are Paid
At the time the filing spouse provides the initial forms to the court for filing, he or she will be asked to pay the required filing fees. The court clerk will not open your divorce case unless the fees have been paid. Acceptable forms of payment, including cash, check, money order, debit card, or credit card, and may vary in different states and courts.
In some cases, additional fees and costs may also be charged depending on the circumstances of your case.
Service of Process
After filing the initial divorce forms with the court, the filing spouse, who is either called the petitioner or the plaintiff, is required to notify the other spouse that a divorce has been filed. This is done by serving the other spouse with the divorce forms.
In general, the filing spouse is not allowed to serve his or her spouse with the documents. Instead, the papers need to be delivered by a process server or a sheriff. If this is the case in your state, you will need to pay to have the documents served on your spouse.
However, some states will allow the documents to be served more informally if the receiving spouse agrees to sign a document that acknowledges receipt of the served documents.
After being served with the divorce paperwork, the responding spouse, who is either called the respondent or the defendant, can respond to the case by filing a form called a Response or an Answer. In the response, the responding spouse can either agree or disagree with the information set forth in the divorce petition.
Filing a response to a divorce can cost the same as what the filing spouse paid to file the divorce. In some states, the filing fee covers both spouses so the responding spouse does not need to pay an additional fee.
How Does Contesting the Case Affect the Cost of a Divorce?
Cost of Contested Divorce
When spouses are unable to settle the terms of their divorce case on their own, their divorce usually becomes contested. If you are involved in a contested case, the cost of divorce increases significantly. This is because spouses will usually need to hire attorneys to help them navigate the issues and resolve the case. When attorneys are involved, both parties need to pay legal fees which can be very costly. If the parties need to go to trial, they’ll also need to pay litigation expenses, which are costs associated with going to court to argue your side.
If a couple cannot reach an agreement on the issues in their case, they may also want to hire specialists to help, in addition to attorneys. This may include a child custody specialist if there are custody issues, or a real estate appraiser if there is real property involved. Some other types of specialists include.
And finally, since contesting a case involves disputes about child custody, alimony, division of a business, property, etc., it may require engaging not only a divorce attorney but also advisors with specialized insight who are qualified to testify in court. For example, the spouses may also have to hire real estate appraisers, business evaluators, forensic accountants, financial consultants, or other experts, all of which add to the costs.
Cost of Divorce If Both Parties Agree
If both parties agree to all of the terms of their case and would like to settle their divorce, they can get an uncontested divorce, and avoid a trial. Amicable divorces are less expensive than litigating your case in court.
An average cost of an uncontested divorce consists of the court filing fees and may include lawyers' fees, if an attorney is necessary.
However, if there is no trial, there is no need to pay hourly fees to a lawyer for court time. If an attorney is necessary to help a couple with an uncontested divorce, it’s possible that the lawyer will work on a flat-fee basis, which is less expensive than a lawyer charging hourly for his or her time.
Whatever type of case you may have, it is difficult to estimate how much it will cost to get divorced in the end. Nevertheless, if both parties agree to the terms of the divorce, there are several ways to reduce the price of the divorce proceedings.
How the Manner of Resolving Disputes Affect the Cost of Divorce
Divorcing With a Lawyer
In most dissolution proceedings, whether litigated or uncontested, divorce attorneys fees make up most of the expenses and greatly affect the overall cost of the procedure.
Given the fact that the US states and territories vary by median household income, advocate fees for divorce cases typically differ accordingly. Thus, the average cost of divorce lawyers are generally higher in certain states including California, Connecticut, and New Jersey and lower in other states like South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost?
In contested divorces, it is most common for attorneys to appear on behalf of the spouses in court. Since contested cases are rather complicated and involve multiple court hearings for the unresolved issues in the case, the parties typically choose full-service legal representation.
Divorce attorneys generally provide comprehensive assistance at each stage of the divorce process including document preparation, conferring with the other spouse or his/her attorney, appearing in court, litigating the unresolved issues in the case, and any other actions which are required to finalize the divorce.
All attorneys differ, but some attorneys will speak with you about your case before they agree to work with you. While some attorneys will charge you for this first meeting, you may want to ask if they will waive the consultation fee. Before the attorney will start work on your case, you’ll need to pay a fee up front.
This first payment is called a retainer fee, which can range anywhere from a couple thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. This amount may vary depending on the state, the specific case, and the cost per hour the attorney charges. Usually, the attorney will charge against the retainer fee and then the clients will need to pay out of pocket once the retainer fee has been exhausted. If the case takes more time, and the lawyer has already "used up" the retainer payment, then the client will pay bills following the lawyer's regular hourly rate.
Lawyer Fees for an Uncontested Divorce
Fees for a mutual, uncontested divorce also vary depending on the specific case. Most often, in order to keep costs down, couples who hire lawyers for their uncontested divorce usually choose limited scope representation or fixed rate representation.
Limited scope representation means that an attorney will assist the couple with a particular part of the divorce process.
Fixed-rate representation means that an attorney charges a flat fee for an uncontested divorce regardless of how long the case lasts. Since an uncontested divorce does not involve a court trial, the attorney’s work will primarily consist of the preparation of documents and resolving the disputes with the other party out-of-court.
When couples want legal assistance but cannot afford the price of an attorney, another option available is to hire a paralegal. Paralegals usually work at law firms to assist attorneys. While they are trained to draft some documents, they are not qualified to complete the entire divorce process on behalf of clients, nor can they provide legal advice.
Paralegals may be helpful if a couple wants assistance in drafting some documents or if they have questions about the divorce process in general.
The paralegals’ costs in a divorce are typically much lower than lawyers' fees, so, in a simple uncontested case, this kind of legal assistance might be an appropriate solution to reduce expenses for divorce paperwork preparation.
Collaborative divorce is a solution for couples who agree to settle their differences out-of-court, and want the assistance of attorneys and other professionals. Thus, unlike traditional litigated divorce, collaborative law is aimed at achieving a settlement in a way that meets the needs of both parties.
Collaborative divorce lawyers must be trained in managing conflicts because they advocate for what is fair in a particular case. Given that the spouses are initially committed to peaceful negotiation, just a few meetings are typically enough for them and their lawyers to settle all the issues. Thus, the average cost of a collaborative divorce is usually only 25-50% of the cost of a litigated divorce.
Divorce mediation is a voluntary process of dispute resolution, which helps the spouses to settle their differences amicably and rationally.
During mediation, the spouses are guided by a neutral mediator who helps them to find mutually beneficial solutions in their case. The mediator cannot take either party's side or give legal advice.
In some states, mediation can be ordered by the court as a way to avoid litigation, or the court may order mediation if the parties need help settling child custody issues. In these cases, the mediator may be free of charge.
On the other hand, some couples decide to hire private mediators to help them to settle their case. The average cost of divorce mediation varies, but can range from between $100 to $300 per hour (or even more, depending on the professional). Sometimes a case can be mediated and settled in a few hours, and other cases need a lot more time and can go on for months or even years.
Divorce arbitration is another option for couples looking for alternatives to going to court. While arbitration has some similarities to mediation, it is different in its finality. While the divorce arbitrator also acts as a neutral between the spouses, an arbitrator is qualified to make final decisions in the case, like a judge can do in court.
This dispute resolution option may suit those couples who want to avoid litigation, but their negotiations about some specific issues (for example, alimony, child support, custody or visitation, etc.) have stalled.
Divorce arbitration costs per hour are comparable to lawyers' hourly rates. However, in general, arbitration is still cheaper than litigation since it usually takes less time.
Other Factors That Affect the Cost of a Divorce
Divorce With Children Involved
If the spouses have minor children of the marriage, it may increase divorce expenses.
For starters, most states provide different divorce form packets for divorces with and without minor children. Divorces with children usually have more paperwork and involve more complicated issues.
Specifically, a divorce with a child involved is usually more complicated because it involves issues such as child custody, visitation, and support matters. That is why the average cost of divorce with children is usually 20-30% more than a divorce with no children.
Another cost associated with child-related matters in a divorce is parenting class fees. Parenting classes are required in some states, but not all.
A parenting class is a brief educational program (either offline or online) for divorcing parents. It is focused on helping parents with managing shared parenting rights and liabilities and reducing the negative effects of the divorce on children.
Seventeen US states require all divorcing parents (regardless of whether the divorce is contested or not) to attend some form of parenting class. In the rest of the states, this may be ordered by the court on a case-by-case basis. The cost of the parenting class varies by state and county, and is usually between $20 and $100.
Divorcing an Incarcerated Spouse
Another variable that may increase the cost of the divorce process is if one spouse wants to get a divorce while the other spouse is in jail.
When one spouse is in prison during the divorce process, there are some additional steps that need to be completed, which add costs. Some states have additional service requirements for spouses who are incarcerated. In addition, some states require that the filing spouse cite fault based grounds if the other spouse is in prison, which will automatically make the case one that requires some litigation.
Service by Publication
After the initial divorce documents are filed by the filing spouse, the other spouse needs to be served with the papers and notified of the case. When the other spouse cannot be located, the filing spouse will need to serve that spouse by publication. This type of service requires the filing of additional motions and involves some extra steps in the divorce process. Service by publication means that the filing spouse needs to publish the divorce summons in a local newspaper for a set amount of time in order to notify the other spouse of the case.
Cost of Hiring Outside Experts
Some divorce cases may require the assistance of specific types of professionals, in addition to divorce attorneys. This usually depends on whether there are issues regarding property division, spousal or child support, or if there are differences in the evaluation of certain assets, such as property or a business.
Usually the attorney working for each spouse will hire an expert if one is needed. If not, the spouses can choose whatever expert they’d like to hire to help them to settle certain aspects of the case. The most common experts used in divorce cases include financial planners, real estate appraisers, business valuators, medical professionals, health insurance experts, and more.
A financial planner can help the couple by evaluating assets such as retirement investments and pensions. The financial planner's assistance is also important when either party seeks alimony or if the case complies with the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act (USFSPA). Finally, if a spouse is not straightforward about any assets, a financial expert can help to trace a spouse’s accounts and find missing information.
Real Estate Appraisers
If real estate is involved in a divorce case, a real estate appraiser may be needed. This specialist can handle matters related to the marital home, investment property, vacation homes or timeshares, etc., ensuring that an appraisal is done so that the property settlement is fair and reasonable.
Business Valuation Specialists
If the spouses have a joint business and are going to divide it in some way, they may need the aid of a business valuation specialist.
There are several ways to approach dividing a business during a dissolution of marriage, and it can be challenging to appraise businesses for division or sale without professional assistance.
If there is a spouse or child with special needs, a dissolution process may involve hiring medical experts.
Therapists can help the parties better understand their child's needs and take part in creating a custody or support agreement that would be beneficial for the child.
The Most Affordable Ways to Get a Divorce
Based on the above, divorce expenses depend on multiple factors, so they are hard to predict without considering the circumstances of a particular case.
In general, the least expensive way to get divorced is by settling the terms of your case with each other and then writing up a settlement agreement. This way, you are minimizing the need to litigate the case in court or spend money on lawyers. If you’re able to settle your case amongst yourselves and prepare the required paperwork, the only fees you’ll pay will be the court required filing fees.
Since the terms set in the final divorce decree are of great importance for the future of both spouses after the divorce, the main goal of the parties should be to protect their interests and to settle disputes fairly. If legal assistance is needed, it should not be neglected, and it is worth considering all the possible options described above to make the divorce cost-effective.
DIY divorce (without a lawyer)
A do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce is when the spouses settle their case on their own and prepare all of the required forms without the help of any professionals. When you file this type of case it is called pro-se or pro per. This means that the parties are acting as self litigants and representing themselves in court. DIY divorce without a lawyer is a very popular option for couples who want to save money and can file an uncontested divorce.
Contrary to popular belief, a do-it-yourself divorce is not limited to couples whose marriage was short and do not have minor children and common property. Though it cannot be denied that such conditions usually make the divorce process much more comfortable, the main thing is whether the spouses are willing to negotiate.
A "pure" DIY uncontested divorce means that couples must independently collect all the required legal forms, complete them, and file them as required by their state and county. In DIY cases, completing the divorce paperwork is usually the hardest part of the process. However, couples can get filing instructions from the clerk’s office at the courthouse, or take advantage of the self-help section on the state’s court website, or get a free preliminary consultation. Since the divorce procedure is subject to the family law of a particular state, the timeline and costs are determined by any prescribed waiting periods and court fees, respectively.
If couples are having a hard time filling out the required divorce forms, and still want to keep costs down and do it themselves, online sites such as OnlineDivorce.com is a perfect solution.
OnlineDivorce handles the preparation of divorce paperwork online. As an excellent complement to a DIY divorce, this service is a faster, cheaper, and more convenient option compared to hiring an attorney.
The service allows couples to complete the required divorce forms from the comfort of their own homes, and the process can take as little as 2 days to complete. By choosing to divorce online, couples can save money on form preparation. OnlineDivorce.com costs only $139 per couple, with free revisions and name change and no hidden fees.
The user needs to log into the website and check whether his or her case can be handled with the help of OnlineDivorce.com by answering a few questions on the main page. If everything is fine, then he or she completes a more detailed online interview concerning the circumstances of the case.
OnlineDivorce.com is an excellent option for couples who want to file an uncontested divorce and want assistance preparing the required forms. The service is quick, easy-to-use, and the best way to avoid expensive legal fees.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much are court fees for a divorce?
In the US, the court filing fee is determined by the state, and sometimes it may even vary in different counties within the state. Thus, depending on the state, filing fees may range anywhere from $50 to $435.
What is the cheapest divorce you can get?
The cheapest possible way to terminate the marriage is to arrange a do-it-yourself divorce without a lawyer. This option perfectly suits those couples who do not contest the case and are ready to settle all the essential terms of their separation by themselves.
How much does an uncontested divorce cost?
The cost of an uncontested divorce can vary significantly depending on multiple factors. If the spouses resort to a divorce attorney to handle their case, they’ll need to pay an initial retainer and also pay the attorney’s hourly fees. An attorney’s hourly fees vary significantly, but can range anywhere from $150 to $1000 per hour.
However, the parties are not obliged to hire a lawyer. In some cases, they can reduce dissolution costs by considering alternative divorce options like paralegals' services, mediation, online divorce, or even do-it-yourself divorce without legal assistance.
Whether the parties choose to hire a professional or not, they’ll need to pay the state required filing fees, and may need to pay other nominal costs for document copies and service fees.
How much does a divorce lawyer cost?
The average attorney rate is about $250/hour but can vary between $100 and $1000 depending on the state where the divorce is taking place and the particular law firm.
Some attorneys will agree to work on a flat fee basis for uncontested divorce cases. Flat fees usually range anywhere from $1000 to $5,000 per case.