Fawn Dyer is a New Jersey-licensed attorney. This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.
Divorce can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive. Surprised? Probably not. But if you’re properly prepared, divorce doesn’t have to break the bank. Before you start searching for a lawyer, arm yourself with some knowledge about the divorce process and how the cost of one can easily ratchet up.
Below, we’ll break down the different factors that affect the cost of a divorce and explain everything in terms you can understand. Then we’ll discuss the average costs of common divorce scenarios. Along the way, we’ll share ways to keep the cost of your divorce as low as possible.
Factors that impact the cost of a divorce
Factor 1: Contested or uncontested divorce
Contested divorces are typically more expensive than uncontested divorces because they require more negotiation and litigation, so it’s important to understand which type of divorce you are pursuing.
A contested divorce means that the parties aren’t in agreement. Either one spouse wants a divorce and the other doesn’t, or the parties disagree on the terms of the divorce. For example, both parties may want to keep the same home, or both may want full custody of their child. Typically, contested divorces involve the courts.
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Factor 2: Divorce method
There are multiple methods of divorce and varied costs associated with each.
Mediation is typically the preferred method of divorce, as it can provide cost savings and cooperation. It requires a “mediator” to help guide discussions between parties. The mediator is neutral and doesn’t represent either party.
Arbitration is similar to mediation. The difference is that it involves a neutral outside party, called an “arbitrator”, who listens to evidence from both sides and reaches a decision on behalf of the divorcing parties. In a non-binding arbitration, parties may go to trial if they don’t agree with the decision of the arbitrator. In a binding arbitration, parties agree to accept the arbitrator’s final decision about the divorce terms—they typically can’t appeal. Because this process occurs outside a courtroom, it’s cheaper and more relaxed than going to trial. However, each party has to pay their share of the arbitrator’s fees, and they’ll pay an attorney’s fees if they choose to be represented by counsel during arbitration.
A trial is generally considered the most expensive divorce method. It requires attorneys, court fees and lots of time going back and forth negotiating with the other party. More time means more money. Most divorces are settled without a trial. However, couples who can’t reach an agreement through other means such as mediation or arbitration typically end up in a trial. Couples with a large income disparity may also end up at a trial.
Finally, there is collaborative law. This is similar to mediation, but each party hires an attorney. They also agree from the outset that they won’t go to court to settle their dispute.
Factor 3: Kids or no kids
If you and your spouse share minor children, you’ll have to figure out the terms of your custody agreement and child support.
There are two types of custody:
- Legal custody stipulates each parent’s right to make major decisions about the health, welfare, religion, education, safety and well-being of minor children.
- Physical custody specifies which parent the minor child lives with overnight on most nights of the week. If parents share custody, their child spends some nights each week with one parent and the remaining nights with the other parent. If one parent receives primary custody, the child lives with that parent more often. Terms of note are “primary caretaker”, “custodial parent” and “parent of primary residence”, all of which refer to the parent who receives primary custody. “Noncustodial parent” and “parent of alternate residence” are terms for the other parent.
The judge considers many factors when determining the outcome of a child custody dispute, which is why it may be helpful to have an attorney if you find yourself in this position. Also, there are fees associated with filing custody petitions and responses. These fees vary court by court.
The calculation to determine child support varies from state to state.
As an example, New York state determines child support by adding together both parents’ net income and multiplying that number by a specific percentage. This percentage differs from state to state. In New York, the percentage is as follows:
|Number of children||Percentage|
|5+||No less than 35%|
A judge determines how much child support each parent pays. They base this amount on each parent’s contribution to their combined net income. If one parent has a job but the other doesn’t, the employed parent pays more child support.
Things that could increase divorce costs
The allocation of marital assets and debt
The more assets to be divided, the longer it may take to reach an agreement, which means that the divorce will cost more. If the parties created a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, however, the division of assets may not be as time-consuming.
Dividing marital debt may also take time. If the spouses can’t reach an agreement, a court will assign debts and properties to each party. The judge will consider the reasons for the debt, how much debt there is and who’s responsible for it. This increased negotiation and litigation could ultimately result in the divorce costing more.
Having minor children
Reaching an agreement on issues pertaining to minor children, such as custody and child support, can be grueling. And the more time you spend arguing with your spouse over these concerns, the more expensive your divorce will be.
Your divorce attorney
Divorce attorneys can be very expensive: Rates range anywhere from $100 per hour to upwards of $500 per hour.
While it’s important to hire someone you trust, it’s also smart to take their rate into account because the whole process may take longer than you expect.
Marble is a great option because they break your case down into services and give you a fixed fee for each service, so you’ll generally know what it’ll cost in advance.
Things that could decrease divorce costs
Mediation can be less formal, less stressful, faster and often less expensive than going to trial. It may help couples who are capable of communicating reach a consensus about the terms of their divorce.
The parties aren’t bound by the recommendations made during mediation unless a proper marital settlement agreement is signed and formally executed by the parties at the end of the mediation.
This is another alternative to court proceedings that can help reduce the costs of divorce. It involves both parties working together with their lawyers to reach a mutually acceptable agreement, rather than fighting in court. This approach can result in a quicker and more cost-effective resolution.
Pro bono services can play a critical role in reducing the cost of divorce for those who need it most. They provide access to legal representation and resources, and help ensure that individuals are able to navigate the divorce process with confidence and knowledge. Marble offers pro bono services in certain circumstances through the Marble Does More program.
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What about a DIY divorce?
The cost of a DIY (do-it-yourself) divorce can vary depending on several factors such as the location, the complexity of the divorce, and the resources used.
However, on average, a DIY divorce can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, including filing fees and the cost of obtaining legal documents.
It’s worth noting that a DIY divorce may save you money in the short-term, but it may also come with potential risks and drawbacks. For example, if you make a mistake in the legal documents, it could cause delays and increase the overall cost of the divorce. Additionally, a DIY divorce may not provide the same level of protection as a divorce handled by a lawyer.
Ultimately, the best way to determine the cost of a DIY divorce is to research the specific requirements in your state or country and to calculate the expenses associated with obtaining necessary legal documents and filing fees.
Estimated costs of a divorce based on your situation
As discussed above, many factors play into the cost of a divorce. While every situation is unique, below outlines the typical price range of different pathways to divorce.
If both parties agree
As a reminder, if both parties agree about the terms of their divorce, the divorce is considered uncontested. In this case, ideally both parties speak with an attorney first to ensure they understand what’s going to happen.
The costs associated with an uncontested divorce include the attorney fee for any meetings that occur, potential mediation costs, and the court filing fees.
If you don’t hire an attorney
If both parties in a contested divorce decide not to hire attorneys, they’re still responsible for paying court and filing fees. The exact cost of this depends on the jurisdiction, but typically falls between $100 and $400.
If you hire a lawyer
Divorce attorneys typically charge an hourly rate for their services, which means that if you call to ask them questions about your divorce, you’ll generally be charged for the time it takes to have that conversation. Plus, you don’t know how long it’ll take to reach an agreement with your spouse on everything, so it’s difficult to predict the overall cost of a divorce with a lawyer. The average cost of divorce in the United States was $15,000 in 2017 per person, which includes court filing fees and attorneys fees.
If the cost of a divorce is a concern but you want a lawyer, other options exist.
First, consider Marble. You get a dedicated, experienced lawyer and team working behind the scenes to move you forward. And you only pay for the services that you want to hire an attorney for—there’s no hourly charge or surprise bills.
Second, if you qualify for government assistance, court-sponsored attorneys may answer questions at no cost.
If you use mediation or arbitration
In the case of mediation, parties may spend as little as nothing (outside of court and filing fees), or as much as a few thousand dollars depending on how much time they spend with their chosen mediator. Costs tend to range from $0 to $250 per hour. With Marble, you get a fixed price for representation at mediation.
The current market rate for a private arbitrator is anywhere from $200 to $1,000 per hour. A nonbinding arbitration may ultimately cost more than a binding arbitration because there’s the potential of an appeal.
If you choose legal separation
Some states allow for a legal separation, where the spouses remain married but live apart.
First, they create a separation agreement that stipulates the terms of the separation such as where their children will live and how to divide their property. Both parties must agree to this agreement. Filing the separation agreement can cost about $200, but the exact amount depends on the court.
Second, you may want to hire an attorney to help create this agreement. Some lawyers charge a fixed rate for this, while others charge an hourly rate.
Third, the agreement takes effect the moment it is notarized. The fee to notarize a document differs from state to state, but typically costs between $0.25 and $20.
Fourth, one year after the separation agreement takes effect, either party can file for divorce. This process is called a “conversion” because it operates on the same terms as the separation agreement. You won’t be charged a filing fee if you decide to divorce via conversion.
The next step: Talk to a divorce attorney
Before beginning the divorce process, it’s a good idea to speak with an attorney. They can help steer you toward your goals by recommending which divorce method may be right for you and answering all of your questions. Even if you don’t choose to hire an attorney for the entire process, having at least an initial consultation may speed things along and reduce stress because you’ll have a road map to follow.