When it comes to emotional and financial stress, dealing with divorce is high on the list. Hiring a professional who can handle all legal matters and divorce papers can help mitigate some of these stresses, provide valuable insights and some guidance dealing with child custody disputes -but it does come at a steep cost.
In the U.S alone, divorce is a $50B industry(1). Most sources say the U.S national average for divorce is about $12,500-$22,500 per person, the average being $15,500(2), including attorney’s fees, court costs, and the cost of hiring outside experts such as a real estate appraiser, tax advisor, or child custody evaluator. Usually, finalizing a divorce takes from four months to 11 months; if a trial is necessary, it can take even longer than a year.
An amicable divorce, often called a collaborative divorce, in which both people agree on terms will cost far less than a contentious divorce that eventually leads to trial. In some cases, legal fees are the most significant cost in a divorce.
A contested divorce, in which the parties do not agree on all the terms upfront, costs more — anywhere from about $2,500 to several thousand dollars. The costs are high because it takes the attorney or law firm more time to help clients make legal decisions, take care of document filings and represent them in court if it comes to that. In most states, family law judges assigned to contested divorce cases require that couples do everything possible to reach a settlement agreement to avoid a trial, which is costly for the divorcing couple as well as the city and state in which the divorce takes place. As you can imagine cost will be higher in areas like New York, California, and Connecticut as opposed to New Mexico, Arkansas and Wyoming (*2017, lowest in the country)
Divorces typically require filing fees as well, which vary by state, ranging from $70 in Wyoming to $350 in Connecticut. Filing fees are usually included in the lawyer’s initial retainer, which covers his or her time to file the paperwork and set up the temporary order hearing. The order hearing in straightforward cases creates a template for the final divorce agreement by laying out the framework for how assets will be divided, a child custody schedule, alimony and child support, if applicable.
Ideally, couples should determine their own child custody schedule; however, that’s not always possible. Attorneys generally charge more for a divorce in which they help work out custody details than for one where the couple has no children or whose children are grown, because of the time required to help couples reach an agreement. Typically, the more time the children are living with one coParent, the less that coParent pays in child support.
Child Custody Evaluation
In a contested divorce, when a couple cannot agree on the custody schedule even after mediation, the court may require a child custody evaluation, which is done by a trained psychologist who spends a lot of time interviewing each coParent, talking to the kids and observing the kids at home with each coParent. If the custody evaluator works for the county, the evaluation will cost $1,000-$2,500, on average whereas a private evaluator might charge $10,000 or more.
Alimony (spousal support) is another item that needs to be determined in a divorce. Couples may agree on a set payment for a determined amount of time to ensure an uncontested divorce. If a couple can’t agree and the court becomes involved, need and ability to earn are determined by calculating expenses (health insurance, rent, etc.) less net income. This process is involved and includes litigation and financial verification.
Mediation is a dispute resolution approach intended to help the parties come to an agreement without going to trial or in some cases in preparation for going to trial. Mediation typically costs an average of $100-$300 per hour but some courts may offer reduced or sliding scale fees based on financial need or when it’s ordered by the court.
***Disclaimer: This information is not intended as legal advice. These are all basic principles, each case is unique, and the legal options and strategies depend on the unique circumstances. Consider seeking legal advice before acting on information in this document.