Divorces are one of life’s most challenging circumstances. They can be acrimonious, emotionally draining and expensive. Legal fees for a divorce aren’t cheap, and deciding not to hire a lawyer can cost even more, given the likelihood of mishandling self-representation in divorce proceedings. A divorce involving an attorney can cost about $11,300. However, a divorce with two amenable spouses requiring no legal representation may only cost several hundred dollars. Here are the details on the cost of a divorce and why an attorney is often a necessary but costly factor. You can also work with a financial advisor who may be able to help prepare your finances and limit some of the financial impacts.
How Much Does Divorce Cost?
Based on a national survey conducted by Nolo, the average cost of a divorce in which the parties had attorneys handle the process from start to finish was about $11,300. However, various elements of a divorce, such as a child custody and your divorce attorney’s hourly rate, tremendously impact costs. As a result, one couple’s divorce might cost a few hundred dollars if they can quickly agree on the divorce terms and avoid hiring an attorney. On the other hand, a drawn-out legal battle, such as the six-year custody fight between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, can cost close to seven figures.
Cost Factors of a Divorce
The lawyer you hire is just one aspect of a divorce’s cost. The following list can help prepare you for the final cost of divorce:
- The region, or state, with urban divorces being more expensive.
- Hiring an attorney or representing yourself.
- An attorney’s fees, including a retainer, travel, filing and consulting fees.
- The couple’s agreeability. When divorcees contest terms, lawyers bill more hours.
- The children, wealth and assets involved increasing a divorce’s complexity.
- Your divorce attorney’s firm size can affect costs, with larger firms usually charging more money.
- How much you end up having to pay in the divorce settlement.
How Much Does a Divorce Attorney Cost?
Divorce almost always involves hiring an attorney on both sides. This is a necessary step to make sure that both sides are being taken care of financially and that no one is losing more than they should during a very difficult time. Although divorce attorneys have a few ways they can structure fees, you can expect one of the following scenarios:
Many attorneys charge an hourly rate, averaging about $270 per hour nationwide, according to Nolo. Because divorces usually take more than a few hours of an attorney’s time, costs can mount quickly. For divorces involving disagreements over children, property and assets, the hourly rate often turns into thousands of dollars in attorney fees.
In addition, because most attorneys charge by tenths of an hour, even fractions of time spent with an attorney can drain your bank account. The exact rate depends on your attorney’s experience and prestige, your location and the size of the law firm.
Flat fees are also a possibility with divorce attorneys, especially ones who handle divorces with no disputes. Rather than engaging in prolonged court proceedings, some lawyers charge a fixed cost to help couples who don’t need to settle any disagreements file for a divorce. This is certainly easier to slot into an overall budget.
Divorce attorneys might use alternative arrangements, also known as value-based billing. Alternative arrangements involve negotiations between clients and lawyers for costs and may result in monthly payments or an hourly charge with a maximum total cost limiting the client’s expenses.
Can I Divorce Without an Attorney?
Divorcing without an attorney is possible in all situations but rarely profitable. While conducting an uncontested divorce with no disputes can be fast and cheap, slip-ups and lapses in judgment can cost you time, money and custody. The likelihood of overlooking crucial details or simply being ignorant of key legal factors drastically increases the longer your divorce takes. As a result, having a lawyer represent you in a divorce is almost always a financially wise move.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost Without an Attorney?
Completing a divorce with no disputes to settle can cost you about $300, per Nolo, without an attorney. However, while representing yourself in court for an extended period might save you on legal fees, the result of the divorce may swing heavily away from your favor. Generally, refusing to hire a lawyer during a divorce is penny-wise but pound-foolish: you’re likely to gain more favorable rulings for child support, asset allocation and custody with a lawyer. In other words, paying for a lawyer is an investment that can improve what your life looks like after the divorce.
Ways to Lower Divorce Costs
While it’s best to hire a lawyer in many situations, you can lower divorce costs through other means. For example, hiring two lawyers isn’t the only route if you and your spouse are in sharp disagreement over numerous issues. Instead, paying for a single court-appointed or independent divorce mediator can bring resolution at a fraction of the cost of a divorce attorney.
In addition, you can receive legal services a la carte through limited-scope representation from a divorce attorney. In this scenario, you hire a lawyer to perform specific divorce-related tasks, such as mediation planning or examining a settlement agreement. Consulting with a divorce attorney for select services can cut your legal fees in half while still giving you adequate support.
The Bottom Line
Lawyers can handle many divorces, which will cost you several thousand dollars on average. Of course, long divorce cases can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, forgoing legal help is often unfeasible, with straightforward, uncontested divorces being the only ones you’re likely to save money on by representing yourself. Legal pitfalls can cost you far more than legal fees, so an attorney is usually well worth the cost.
That said, you can reduce divorce costs by opting for mediation or paying an attorney for limited-scope representation. Overall, while divorce costs can be steep, it’s recommended to assess your needs and ensure that you obtain the services necessary to help you get through the divorce with solid financial standing and desired custody status, if applicable.
Tips for Managing Divorce Costs
- It can be challenging to get your financial bearings during and after a divorce. A financial advisor can help you prepare for and navigate your financial decisions throughout the entire process. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- A divorce can be very messy, from the emotional impact to what happens to your finances. However, that doesn’t mean it has to always cause financial ruin. In fact, here is how you can protect your assets during a divorce.
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