Even though 39% of marriages end in divorce, people obviously don’t expect to be divorced when they first get married. And for that reason, many are unaware of the costs—divorce proceedings can set you back anywhere between a few hundred dollars and tens of thousands, depending on the situation. Here’s a look at why it ranges so widely.
How much can you expect to pay?
According to a NOLO survey, you can expect to pay a median cost of $7,500 for a divorce if you use a lawyer. Divorce costs vary based on lawyer rates, where you live, and whether you actually end up adjudicating the divorce in court.
How much does an uncontested divorce cost?
An uncontested divorce is quicker and cheaper because there are no court hearings. A couple will have already agreed on how they’ll split their assets, allowing them to submit a divorce settlement agreement directly with the court. The settlement is then approved by a judge.
The process is very streamlined in some states, and although you technically don’t need a lawyer for an uncontested divorce, many do seek out their expertise, sometimes simply to review and explain the paperwork.
At a minimum, an uncontested divorce will require filing costs, which will be $300 on average (for a list of filing costs in your state, click here).
How much does a mediated divorce cost?
Another option that’s a bit more involved is mediation, which involves a lawyer acting as a third party mediator (a variant of this is known as collaborative divorce). There’s no court or any sort of ruling here—it’s merely a way of resolving some outstanding issues while avoiding the expense of court time. According to a NOLO survey, those who sought mediation spent, on average, $970 on mediation costs.
How much does a contested divorce cost?
If needed, a lawyer will be your advocate in court, negotiating on your behalf for custody, support, and division of assets. As a rule, the more complicated the case gets, the more you’ll spend. That’s why 90% of contested divorces are typically settled before they reach court. According to Legal Zoom:
Typically, you’ll need to pay your divorce attorney a retainer, or a down payment, of $2,500 – $5,000. Your attorney will charge you against this retainer until the money runs out. After that, you may have to put down an additional retainer, or your attorney may bill you by the hour. Average hourly attorney fees are anywhere from $150 to $400 per hour.
The costs add up once you go to trial—you’ll be paying more on lawyer fees, court costs for child custody evaluators, tax advisors, real estate appraisers, and other experts. According to a NOLO survey, divorce agreements that come out of settlements cost an average of $10,600, but that nearly doubles if the divorce goes to trial, costing an average of $20,379.
To no one’s surprise, a divorce trial is expensive. If there’s a contentious disagreement over a relatively small asset, however, you’ll want to make sure its worth the cost of a prolonged fight in court.