When a marriage reaches its breaking point and a couple finally decides it’s time to divorce, one of the first questions pretty much everyone will ask is, “How much will this cost?”
Due to the unique circumstances of each divorce, it is nearly impossible to predict what the final total will be.
Every aspect from the amount of property that needs to be divided to the willingness of both parties to work together will play a role in the overall cost, and most of these aspects will remain fluid throughout the process.
While there are varying figures given for the “average” cost of divorce depending on where you look (ranging from $4,000 to $15,000 or more), there is no realistic way to answer what yours will cost until the dust has settled and you can look back on what was spent.
Factors that increase divorce expense
Administration and court fees are the most basic expense of a divorce and will vary by state. The initial filing fee to start a divorce action can range anywhere from less than $100 to more than $400.
There will also be additional fees to file various documents with the court throughout the process; however, these are rarely the only costs incurred throughout a divorce. Other common factors that will continue to increase the expense include:
Attorney fees — Attorneys charge anywhere from around $50 per hour to upwards of $700 depending on where you live and the attorney’s experience, credibility, reputation, etc., though you can probably expect to pay somewhere in the ballpark of $250 per hour as a general average. You should also note that just because an attorney charges more does not mean they are better.
Contentious issues — Dividing assets, determining alimony, agreeing on custody and child support — the list for what must be decided before a divorce is final goes on and on, and each of these matters often requires complex and intensive negotiations to reach a fair settlement. Expert witnesses may also be required, such as business or custody evaluators, which will continue to tack on fees.
Dragging things out / going to court — The longer it takes you to agree on the issues that arise in your divorce, the more your divorce will cost you in the long run. Attorney fees will continue to pile up, and if your cannot resolve your issues and must go to court, you can expect the overall cost to increase exponentially.
Additionally, it may take weeks or months for a court date to be granted to rule on individual issues (and may need to be postponed for various reasons), which will greatly increase the time you have to wait for everything to be finalized while adding to the final tally.
Acting irrationally — Divorce is a stressful and emotional process that frequently causes even the most rational people to act completely irrationally. It takes clear thinking to get through a divorce, and fighting over petty matters or taking a stand out of principle will only serve to increase the total cost. Failure to follow court orders will also result in additional expense, as it will cost more in legal and attorney fees to file contempt charges or modifications to temporary orders.
Controlling divorce costs
Despite the numerous factors throughout the divorce process that can combine to create an exorbitant final price tag, there are plenty of options to help keep the grand total under control.
Minimize attorney fees — Since most attorneys bill by the hour, every interaction you have with you lawyer once you have retained will be on the clock. Every phone call and email response will be logged, which can begin to nickel and dime your retainer away. Many attorneys say their clients will often use them to vent their frustrations, but at $250 an hour, that’s a pretty expensive sounding board.
Resolve issues outside of court — Litigation is expensive. You and your spouse need to work together to resolve your various issues if you want to avoid massive legal fees from piling up, as your attorneys will be racking up hours in preparation for trial. Additionally, you have a better chance of achieving a mutually satisfactory settlement than if you let the judge make the decisions.
Utilize alternative dispute resolution methods — Mediation can be a very effective approach for achieving fair solutions on even hotly contested issues. Though you will have to pay the mediator by the hour, it will still end up saving a ton if you can avoid taking issues before a judge. Collaborative divorce is another option that attempts to take conflict out of the equation and should be considered based on your circumstances.
Compromise is necessary to achieve a fair settlement, and mediators or collaborative attorneys can help you avoid becoming hung up on irrelevant issues and devise creative solutions to even the most difficult problems.
Amicability is key — Both spouses need to be committed to finishing the divorce as quickly and fairly as possible. It requires full, honest and timely responses to all requests, as a lack of disclosure will require additional time to root out the truth and creates an atmosphere surrounding negotiations that is not conducive to achieving an amicable split.
Many — if not all — of these factors will likely come into play sometime throughout the divorce process. It is impossible from the beginning to determine which path the divorce will go, and even a divorce that begins amicably can take a nasty turn at the drop of a hat.
You may attempt to map out an estimation of what expenses will be incurred by trying to predict what issues will be the hardest to resolve, what experts are needed, your attorney’s fees and how you think you and your spouse will react; however, it is impossible to accurately predict the cost of your divorce until you actually go through the process.
Your best bet is to prepare yourself for the worst while striving to achieve the best possible result, but all the while realize that it’s possible for the final tally to be more than you imagined if the divorce ends up dragging though the mud.