While the decision to file for divorce involves a lot of emotional input, more than half of marriages in the United States end in divorce.
The legal aspect of a divorce will begin when one spouse – known as the petitioner – serves a divorce petition on the other. This petition is then filed with the court, essentially meaning that the petitioner is asking the court to legally end your marriage.
A divorce filing must contain certain elements and details regarding the marriage, including any property you and your spouse may own together, children you share, and more.
There are also several legal aspects the petition must contain, including
- Proof to the court that it has jurisdiction over at least one of the spouses in the marriage;
- Grounds (a legal reason) that you are filing for divorce;
- Other information that the courts require, which depends specifically on jurisdiction.
Following the filing, the spouse served with the petition – known as the respondent – must respond to the petition stating that they either agree to divorce and the reasons for it or not. Regardless, both parties to the divorce must go through and list all of their assets, income, and expenses. If both parties agree to the divorce terms, the court enters a judgment on the record, through which divorce becomes official.
In many cases, however, parties may disagree over several aspects of a divorce filing, including (but not limited to) the reasons for divorce; how assets will be split between the two parties; who will retain custody of any children shared; and more.
Should this occur, the courts will try to schedule some negotiation or mediation between the parties to settle on a compromise. If this fails, divorce filings will proceed to trial, wherein a judge decides the terms of the divorce. After the court enters a final judgment, the divorce is finalized.
Divorce Costs Without a Lawyer
Divorce can be a complicated process depending on the assets involved, whether there are children to consider, and how amicable the relationship is between both parties.
If the divorce is completely uncontested, meaning both parties agree to the terms of the divorce, how the assets will be distributed, etc., the costs of a divorce can be lower.
In some instances, it may even be limited only to the fees involving filing, serving the papers/petition, and the cost of the papers themselves which, can range from $70 to $1,000 depending upon the state in which the petition is filed. This, however, is unlikely. In many cases, very few couples will agree on all aspects of their divorce.
If a divorce is contested, things can get a little more complicated. Courts will usually require significantly more paperwork, mediation and negotiation are often involved, and you may even have to go to court.
Divorce Costs with a Lawyer
The cost of hiring an attorney to represent you during a divorce depend on many things, including:
- Your attorney’s fee structure, divorce attorneys either charge by the hour or have a retainer fee;
- How complicated the divorce itself is (which depends on assets, children, alimony, etc.);
- Where you are filing for divorce;
- Whether mediation services are involved;
- Whether you will likely need to go to trial.
Some attorneys that will help you file for divorce will charge a flat fee, meaning that your lawyer will tell you a cost for their services upfront that will not change regardless of the amount of time that is spent on your case.
Lawyer Cost by the hour
In instances where a lawyer charges by the hour, prices for family law attorneys usually range between $150 to $250 per hour for divorce proceedings, but can get to upwards of $650 per hour if your case is complicated and contested.
Average divorce cost
As a whole, in 2019, the average cost of a divorce in the United States is around $15,000 per person, which includes things like attorney’s fees, filing charges, court costs, and hiring outside experts.
These costs are hugely dependent on the amount of time the divorce proceedings go on for, which begins at filing/service of the petition and ends with the court entering judgment.
Time to Finalize Divorce
Depending on how much the parties involved disagree and whether a trial is involved, the entire proceeding can take anywhere from four months to more than a year.
Average cost for an uncontested divorce
The average cost for a lawyer in an uncontested divorce is around $1,000. This, however, can be higher in larger cities. If a divorce goes all the way to trial, couples can spend upwards of $20,000 each.
Legal Separation Costs
Legal separation differs from divorce in a variety of ways. While it divides your assets, establishes custody agreements, and essentially creates a legal separation between yourself and your partner, a legal separation does not terminate or formally end your marriage. Whereas you still receive some of the benefits of being married with a legal separation, such as social security and pension, the cost of filing and implementing a legal separation is often similar to that associated with divorce.
In many instances, however, couples seeking to separate legally are often on relatively the same page in terms of agreement, so prices are likely to be similar to those associated with an uncontested divorce.
It’s usually best to discuss what’s best for both parties – both financially and emotionally – with an attorney or other professional specializing in separation and divorce. This way, the final decision regarding filing for a divorce or legal separation fits your lifestyle and needs.
Mediation and Negotiation Costs
Mediation can either be part of the legal divorce process, or it can be an option taken by both parties to avoid hiring an attorney and looking to the courts for a solution or agreement. It usually involves both parties coming together in front of a professional to discuss the issues in the marriage, as well as the overall outcome both parties are hoping for after the dust settles and a divorce is finalized.
After an agreement is reached, the mediator will file the terms of the agreement with the court. As a result, the legality of the divorce is based entirely on fulfilling the terms of the agreement.
Like the cost of most attorneys, costs for mediation and/or negotiation services depend on a variety of factors, such as the skill level and experience of the mediator, where the mediation/negotiations are taking place, the services provided by the mediator/negotiator; and more.
Average cost for mediation
The average cost of a mediated divorce ranges from between $7,000 to $10,000, depending on these factors. Before balking at this price, however, remember that it’s almost always cheaper to go through mediation and negotiation, rather than a full-fledged divorce trial.
Other Potential Costs
There are other factors that go into a divorce proceeding that can increase the overall cost, regardless of whether or not you have hired an attorney to represent you. For example, in cases where there are children involved, and a question of custody is raised, courts can sometimes require that a psychologist or child custody evaluator come in and assess what is best for the children. This often comes at a cost to the couple.
Going through assets can also increase the cost of a divorce. As previously stated, courts usually require that both parties to a divorce list their income, assets, liability, and more in a divorce proceeding. This can be a complicated process, especially in instances where a couple has multiple estates, has a variety of different assets, etc. Oftentimes, real estate appraisers or tax advisors need to be hired. Again, this comes at the cost to the couple.
While divorce can be an incredibly difficult process to go through emotionally, it doesn’t have to ruin you financially. So long as you do the right amount of research, shop around for attorneys, and are willing to compromise, divorce proceedings do not have to break your bank. Hopefully, with this knowledge in hand, while your marriage may be over, your life does not have to be, and you can move forward when the courts legally finalize the end of your marriage.