The average cost of divorce varies considerably depending on the state you live in, the type of divorce, and how contentious the proceedings become. Even though these variables can swing considerably depending on your situation, we’ve compiled the latest data available, from multiple sources to give you the best estimate based on national averages.
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What is the Average Total Cost of Divorce in the US in 2018?
Divorce can be a difficult time for you and your family, emotionally and financially. Many people are not aware of what is involved and how much divorce proceedings may cost. You may have to pay for a variety of services (including filing fees and attorney fees) during your divorce, depending on your situation. We looked at four different studies of divorce costs in the United States and found the average cost of a divorce in 2018 is $13,309.
However, the overall cost of divorce varies from state to state and situation to situation. In our comparison of cost statistics, we saw numbers as low as $468 and as high as $22,500. These drastic variations in cost have to do with whether or not the divorce is contested, whether an attorney is needed, if the case goes to court, and more.
Although attorney’s fees make up more than half of the total cost of the majority of divorce cases, other fees involved may include:
- Filing fees
- Court costs
- Marshall fees
- Child custody evaluator
- Tax advisor
- Real estate appraisal
- Hiring other experts
If you are concerned about the cost of a divorce, don’t be afraid to consult with your attorney and discuss your budget needs.
What Can Affect the Cost of a Divorce?
Exactly how much you will pay for a divorce depends on a number of factors. However, there are some overarching principles that can help you decide how to proceed.
- Going to trial almost always adds expense. Our research shows that in 2018, the average contested divorce that goes to trial costs $19,433.
- An uncontested divorce where parties can agree to all terms is typically cheapest, whereas contested divorce where attorneys help you come to an agreement are more expensive.
- Using a mediator often helps defray costs.
Mediators work with the couple to discuss and work out all aspects of the divorce. In these cases, attorneys are not required and the divorce does not go to court, which means the divorce is typically more affordable. You do have to pay for the mediator, but their fees are usually reasonable. In our comparison of divorce cost studies, we found that settling a divorce without going to court can save you an average of $4,000.
Other things that may affect the cost of a divorce include the complexities of the case. For example, if there are extensive debts and/or properties involved, child custody issues, or problems with domestic violence, incarceration, and/or substance abuse, the case will likely take more time and thus may become more expensive. The employment and income of both parties can also affect divorce costs.
State-by-State Divorce Costs and Information
You may have the option to file for divorce in multiple states, depending on where you and your spouse live, work, and own property. Be aware that in the United States, the cost and time required to divorce are quite variable between states. For example:
- California: California has the highest average filing fee ($435) for a divorce and the second-highest average attorney’s fees ($13,800), making it the most expensive state to get a divorce.
- Washington DC: Washington has the highest average attorney’s fees in the U.S. at $14,800.
- North Dakota: North Dakota has the lowest average overall cost of divorce with a filing fee of only $80 and average attorney’s fees of $8,200.
- New Jersey: Not only is New Jersey one of the top ten most expensive states in the U.S. to get a divorce, it also takes 360 days minimum to process a divorce there.
- Alaska: In comparison, in Alaska, it only takes 30 days to process a divorce. In fact, one study ranked Alaska as the easiest state in the U.S. to get a divorce because of the speediness and relatively low costs ($150 filing fee and $10,300 average attorney’s fees).
Average Cost of Filing for Divorce
In order to begin divorce proceedings, you are required to file a “dissolution of marriage petition” with the courts’ clerk in your county. Per our comparison of four major divorce costs studies, filing this petition requires a nationwide average filing fee of $240. In some states, if you file the form electronically, the price may be reduced.
Filing fees can add up over time if your situation requires additional motions, copies of the petition, and more. Additionally, filing fees vary greatly by state. California has the highest at $435, and the lowest is North Dakota at $80.
Average Cost of Attorney’s Fees for Divorce
How much a divorce attorney costs depends on a number of circumstances. From our comparison of four studies, average divorce attorney fees for a divorce were around $12,837. This number takes into account contested divorce, divorce with the use of a mediator, and collaborative divorce proceedings. We found that the average per hour rate for a divorce attorney was $365.
In general, the more issues that require litigation, the higher costs will be. If you can agree on issues like child custody, child support, alimony or spousal support, the division of property, the division of debts, claims for reimbursement, and claims for breach of fiduciary duty outside of court, it will lower costs.
If you cannot agree on issues, you will face a contested divorce which is typically more expensive. Our comparison of four studies found that the average attorney’s fees for a contested divorce that went to trial in the US were $19,433 in 2018. Don’t let these numbers scare you though, as there are a number of ways you may be able to keep attorney costs down.
A collaborative divorce is a much more affordable than a contested divorce, with an average cost of $3,744 per attorney according to our research. In this approach, both parties hire attorneys, but everyone agrees to resolve issues without going to trial.
Another cost saving option is a flat fee divorce. Some attorneys will accept a flat fee of approximately $1000 to take your case. However, this option should only be taken under careful consideration, since most attorneys will limit the time spent on your case. This could be a problem should additional issues arise.
If you decide to hire an attorney for your divorce, they will play a major role in what transpires and what the outcome will be. A good family law attorney will pay close attention to the circumstances of your case and talk to you to decide what measures to take. They take on the responsibility of dividing debts and assets between both parties as well as setting terms for child custody and support if children are involved. Your attorney will conduct thorough research and gather evidence that supports the decisions around debts, assets, and support payments.
However, you do not always need an attorney in order to get divorced. As mentioned previously, you might use a mediator to help you resolve a divorce outside of court. Or, in the case of some uncontested divorces, you can complete the divorce using a divorce service online, without an attorney. Online divorce services can cost as little as a few hundred dollars. However, these services are not always advisable if you have a complicated situation.
Cost Scale for Types of Divorce
There are different types of divorce, some of which are more expensive than others. The cost in different cases varies just as much as the personal circumstances of the people getting divorced. Talking to an experienced divorce attorney about your situation can help you get an idea of how much your divorce may cost.
A contested divorce is where both parties do not agree on all the issues (such as child support, a division of assets, etc.) so it is up to the judge to decide who gets what. From our comparison of four studies, average contested-in-court divorce attorney’s fees in the United States are $19,433 in 2018.
An uncontested divorce is simple; both parties agree on all of the aspects of the divorce (child custody, property distribution, support payments, and everything else in between). Therefore, they do not need to go to trial. From our research, uncontested divorce done online costs an average of $468 in 2018.
Mediation is a requirement in some jurisdictions. In this case, the couple is required to meet with a mediator prior to setting a trial date. You have to pay for the mediator, but often it reduces or negates the need for an attorney’s fees. Our research shows the average cost of using a mediator is $6,240.
Collaborative divorce takes place when both spouses hire lawyers who agree to resolve the issues without litigation. A lawyer trained in collaborative divorce is usually needed for this case. Our current research shows the average collaborative divorce costs $3,744 per attorney.
Regardless of the type of divorce and whether or not you hire an attorney, you are still required to file a petition of dissolution of marriage with the clerk of the court in your county and pay the fees that go along with it.
Other Potential Divorce Costs
Besides attorney’s fees and filing fees, you may incur other costs during your divorce. These potential additional costs include:
Notary fees = $2 – $10
Petition delivery = Free – $100
Real estate appraisals = $300 – $400
Divorce documents = Free – $50
Parenting courses = $25 – $250
Child counseling = costs vary
Moving and rental fees = costs vary
Financial lawyer and accounting for property sales and divisions = costs vary
Tips Make a Divorce as Cost Efficient as Possible
Legal costs can be a big part of divorce expenses. However, hiring an attorney does not have to mean breaking the bank. Here are some tips on how to keep attorney costs down during a divorce.
- Get all fee agreements in writing so that you know exactly what you’re paying for. Pay attention to details like what time increments the attorney bills in.
- If you can, try to agree on issues with your spouse outside of court
- Be careful with cheap attorneys: be sure they are experienced and read the fine print to make sure you will get the support you need
- Don’t treat your attorney like a therapist: you are likely being billed for the time you spend with your attorney, so stick to the facts.
- Never withhold relevant information from your attorney. This can slow down the process and end up costing you more in time and money.
- Keep track of what your attorney is doing. Typically, you will be billed for all calls and correspondence and these items will appear on your bill. Keeping track on your end can help you catch any mistakes.
For a good family law attorney, it’s not just about doing the job and making money. They want you to be informed, and they want to help you through this difficult time as smoothly as possible.
Other Ways to Reduce Costs and Guard Your Finances during a Divorce
In addition to keeping an eye on legal fees, there are other potential financial issues to watch out for during a divorce. It’s best not to open new credit cards, make major purchases, or incur more debt until after the divorce is final. Debt can be shared between parties as the divorce is finalized, and all property including your new purchases could be up for grabs in the divorce.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to close any joint accounts you may have with your spouse. Instead, open separate bank accounts in your name alone. Be sure to make your spouse aware of this before you do it so that you are not accused of hiding assets. It is also a good idea to check on all accounts you and your spouse may have (including retirement accounts and pensions) and to check both credit reports. A financial or legal professional can help you make sure you have a good understanding of your family’s finances.