How Much Does It Cost to Get a Divorce?
There are many variables that influence the cost of divorce. How long it takes, whether or not you’re using a lawyer, whether or not it’s contested, and which state you live in are all aspects that may drive the total cost up or down.
Unfortunately, divorce tends to be expensive. How expensive really depends on your circumstances. However, it can help to look at the average cost of some common divorce situations. These numbers can help you (and your spouse, if there’s a chance at an amicable separation) decide which type of divorce is the most cost effective for everyone.
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Cost to File for a Divorce
The first step in the process of getting divorced is filing a petition for divorce. Every time you file something with the courts, you have to pay a fee. The cost is dependent on the type of divorce you’re filing, such as a divorce with (or without) children. There will be filing fees for all additional copies, additional motions, requests, orders, and petitions associated with your divorce. The average nationwide cost for filing is about $300, although you can request fee waivers in many situations. In addition, you’ll need to serve your spouse with the petition for divorce. Sometimes that is done by the sheriff or by someone you know personally. Otherwise, it’s done with an appointed server who will deliver the petition for you (which runs about $50).
Average Cost of an Uncontested Divorce
An uncontested divorce means that both you and your spouse not only agree on the divorce, but also how to separate your assets. If you’re looking for tips on how to get a cheap divorce, a do-it-yourself uncontested divorce is one way to do it.
Again, there are a ton of variables on this type of divorce. By doing things yourself, you might be able to get divorced for as little as $500. Representing yourself means you’ll have to do some research and you’ll have to really trust your spouse, communicate effectively, and tolerate the risk. You can still hire an attorney for your uncontested divorce, which will be cheaper than a divorce in which both parties are not on the same page, but still more expensive than doing it yourself.
Cost of Using a Divorce Attorney
Clearly, the cost will be much higher when you hire an attorney. Retainers and hourly fees for divorce lawyers vary greatly per state, lawyer, and situation. The positive side of an attorney is that you’ll have less risk. In a contested divorce with assets, children, and other sensitive variables, it might actually save you money in the long run. If your case goes to trial, the fees fly through the roof. Some states allow spouses to share an attorney, but others deem it impossible for one attorney to have the best interest of both parties in mind when there’s a disagreement. The average cost of an attorney is about $250 per hour and the amount of hours you’ll need will depend on your situation.
Cost to Get a Divorce Using Mediation
Mediation is a key aspect in divorce proceedings that are contested, but that want to avoid trial. Avoiding trial is a common goal for everyone involved so that the fees associated don’t skyrocket for both parties. In mediation, each spouse sits down with their attorneys and resolves issues with a neutral third party. The cost of mediation is determined by a set-up fee, the number of sessions, and mediator fee. The average session can cost around $100 to $300 per hour. The document costs can be between $500 and $1500. Mediation can speed up the divorce process which can run long in many cases. Though this is still a more costly option than an uncontested divorce, it’s still helpful to avoid litigation, and some states require mediation before receiving a trial date.
Cost of a Legal Separation Instead of Divorce
For some people, it’s hard to make the definitive decision to end a marriage. Knowing when it’s time to get a divorce isn’t the easiest task for some due to questions about assets or children. For that reason, some couples choose to look into legal separation as opposed to divorce. The difference between the two is that a legal separation offers the opportunity for both parties to separate without the legal finality. Legal separations can be reversed, whereas divorces cannot. In order to get a legal separation, both parties must sign a petition filed in court and a signed agreement stipulating the division of property, child support, and financial support. However, not all states recognize legal separations.
In many ways, a legal separation isn’t cheaper than a divorce if it’s not agreed upon. If both parties don’t need lawyers, the costs boil down to the filing fees that are similar in price to an uncontested do-it-yourself divorce. If both parties require an attorney to get through the disagreements, then the costs are similar to the hourly rate you’ll pay an attorney for contested divorce proceedings.
The cost of filing for divorce is a wide spectrum. Where you will fall on that payment spectrum will depend on many factors. Where you live, how long it takes, how many assets you share, if you have children, whether or not it’s contested, and if you have an attorney are all variables that weigh heavy on the total cost. When you’re considering a divorce, you may not have a choice in some of these matters. It’s helpful to be in agreement with your spouse, but that’s not always as easy as it sounds. At least you’ll know which aspects of divorce tend to be expensive, and be better prepared for the type of divorce you think you’ll be facing.
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Chelsy is a writer from Montana who now lives in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys talk radio, cold coffee, and playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow Chelsy on Twitter @Chelsy5
This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published March 13, 2018.