Maxwell Hills | August 25, 2022 | Divorce
One of the first questions many clients ask when facing a divorce is “how much is this divorce going to cost me?”
The answer? It depends.
In reality, no one can guess or estimate how much a divorce will cost at the beginning of the legal process. Many variables increase the cost of a divorce, but none more than the complexity and expectations.
In addition, whether you hire a lawyer, how amicable the terms are with your soon-to-be-ex spouse, and shared assets can all impact the costs.
Divorce can be stressful on its own, but the added expenses make it more difficult for many people. We’ll uncover the costs of divorce in common scenarios, so you can understand how that may impact your own case.
How Much to File for Divorce in Orange County California?
The cost of divorce in Orange County California is generally expensive, but it’s less if you don’t go to court.
Attorneys’ fees make up a large portion of the expenses and complexity increases the time they spend on the case to draft and file motions, facilitate discovery, manage depositions, and negotiate with opposing counsel. The court fees and hiring of professionals, such as expert witnesses, also increase the total cost.
Because of this, uncontested divorce can be much lower than contested divorce. California is a no-fault divorce state, which means that neither spouse has to prove that there was misconduct on the part of the other. The only requirement for a no-fault divorce is that the couple agrees that they can’t get along – irreconcilable differences.
Still, a divorce based on irreconcilable differences can still mean agreement about how to divide the assets. When the couple agrees on the division of assets, the divorce is considered “uncontested.’
When they disagree on the division of assets, in whole or in part, then the divorce is a “contested” divorce. The type of disagreement can range from minor issues in some areas to disagreement on every aspect.
In some cases, neither party may hire a divorce lawyer for an uncontested divorce. They may only pay for a few hours with a divorce lawyer to obtain basic legal information, but then do the rest of the work themselves.
Unfortunately, spouses who disagree on the expectations and resolution may not have much choice but to hire attorneys and engage in a legal battle.
Complexities that Increase the Cost of Divorce
There are numerous factors that may impact the cost of divorce in California.
Whether your divorce is amicable or not, having children can have a considerable impact on the total cost. Just having children at all, even if you and your spouse agree about child support and custody, can add complexity and expense to the case.
There will likely be a longer period of time between the initial filing and the divorce decree, as well as more paperwork. You may also run into issues during the time you’re waiting for a divorce judgment.
If child custody and child support are issues, that adds a lot to the case. In all likelihood, you’ll end up in court. People are more emotional – and more aggressive – about child support and custody than they are about assets or spousal support. Understandably.
Divorce mediation and litigation are the methods most people are familiar with, but there are more models to the divorce process.
Litigation is the most expensive option for a divorce. Each party hires a divorce attorney and the case is much longer. Because the duration is dragged out, so are the expenses. Along with the costs, litigation is also the most stressful option.
The next most expensive option is collaborative divorce. Similar to mediation, you and your spouse will negotiate in a room together with neutral, professional guidance. Collaborative divorce is more expensive than mediation because you’re both going to hire an attorney.
With collaborative divorce, you’ll also have divorce coaches and possibly accountants, real estate agents, or child specialists to sort out the details of asset division, custody arrangements, and more.
Finally, there’s mediation, which is done with either attorneys or mental health professionals. They typically charge hourly rates for their services as well.
What Is the Cost for a Divorce Lawyer?
Some couples can go through a divorce without a lawyer, but there are circumstances in which a divorce lawyer is necessary or strongly recommended. You may prefer to have a lawyer handle the whole case, or just the paperwork and negotiations.
Most divorce lawyers work on an hourly rate. Here are the average rates according to research from Martindale-Nolo:
- The national average hourly rate is $270
- 11% of divorce lawyers charge $100 an hour
- 34% of divorce lawyers charge $200 an hour
- 35% of divorce lawyers charge $300 an hour
- 20% of divorce lawyers charge $400 or more an hour
The first part of the total bill for a divorce lawyer is the hourly rate. There are significant regional differences as well, especially in large cities. Naturally, the rates are higher with more experienced attorneys.
The lawyer’s hourly rate is only part of the total cost, however. It’s difficult to estimate the total hours that will go into a divorce, especially for a layperson.
According to the same research, clients who hire a lawyer to handle the entire case, start to finish, paid an average of $11,300 in fees.
Keep in mind that some clients have more complex – and expensive – divorce cases, skewing the average. The median cost is $7,000, meaning some clients paid more, and some less.
Other expenses factor into a divorce case as well. The lawyer’s fees are the biggest expense, but you’ll also have filing fees and court costs. Some other costs may include real estate appraisers, tax advisors, and child custody evaluators.
Can I Handle My Divorce on My Own?
A DIY divorce can be a good option for clients to save on divorce lawyer costs, if it’s appropriate for the situation.
Overall, the participants of the survey paid around $1,170 in costs to handle their own divorce. The typical cost, or median amount, was only $300. These clients didn’t need to hire a lawyer and had no contested issues in their divorce.
If you choose to handle an uncontested divorce on your own, your expenses will mostly be the filing fee for the divorce petition or response. In California, that amount is $435. If you can’t afford to pay the fee, you can apply for a waiver.
There are some other small fees to account for, such as:
- Hiring a process server to serve your spouse with the petition
- Filing other documents in your case
- Obtaining a certified copy of the divorce decree
- Still, even uncontested DIY divorces can present obstacles, such as:
- Where to file your divorce (what county)
- How to obtain the correct forms
- How to fill out the forms properly
- How to file the forms properly
California has online divorce services that offer instructions and information on the process. You can also use an online divorce service if you and your spouse have agreed about custody, spousal or child support, and the division of property and debts.
With this service, you will answer questions about your circumstances and the forms will be generated based on the answers to file an uncontested divorce in the state of California. There are some services that will also file the forms for you or provide you with detailed filing instructions.
The cost of online services can range from $150 to $500, though some may offer subscription fees with a flat rate per month.
Ways to Lower Divorce Cost
Divorce costs can vary according to many specifics of your case. Your case will only be at the lower end of the range if you have an uncontested divorce and you and your spouse agree on the legal issues, without a lawyer’s help.
If you can’t agree or come to a compromise, which is common in heated divorces, the situation becomes more complicated. The communication problems and conflicts that ended the marriage make the divorce process itself difficult as well, and it makes sense to hire a lawyer.
If your spouse has a lawyer and you don’t, it’s necessary to hire one. Otherwise, you could be at a significant disadvantage. Whether you have a lawyer or not, here are some ways you can reduce your expenses:
Mediation involves a single, neutral facilitator to negotiate the terms of a divorce. A mediator won’t provide specific recommendations, but they can protect your legal rights and consult with experts as needed to inform your decisions.
Divorce mediation isn’t cheap, either. It can cost between $4,000 and $8,000, depending on the specifics of your case.
A collaborative divorce is a hybrid approach to divorce that includes some aspects of divorce mediation and some aspects of traditional litigation. Each spouse has their own lawyer, typically. There are also neutral parties, such as child specialists and divorce coaches, that increase the cost. But overall, this is cheaper than going to court for a divorce and has better outcomes on a whole.
If you believe you can handle the divorce without a full-scope lawyer – or you can’t afford a lawyer – you can save on expenses using unbundled legal services or limited-scope representation. This is when you pay a lawyer to handle only certain aspects of your divorce or advise you on specific questions.
With the cost of everything increasing, this is becoming a common arrangement. Clients may hire a lawyer to prepare for mediation, draft a formal settlement document, or coach them for negotiations.
The cost of a consulting attorney can vary, just like hiring a lawyer for the entire process. Ultimately, the cost will depend on how much time the lawyer spends on your case. On average, clients who use consulting attorneys for unbundled legal services had $4,600 in fees. The median amount was $3,000.
If the costs still seem high, you have other options. Some of these may include
- Working with an attorney who offers payment plans
- Discussing tactics to reduce court time with your attorney
- Getting free advice from a family law clinic
- Prenuptial agreements
- Speaking with a legal aid organization to see if you qualify for financial assistance
Divorce Services from Hills Law Group
Divorce can be one of the most emotional and stressful experiences in your life, especially if there are children involved. These cases are challenging in many ways – legally, emotionally, and financially.
At Hills Law Group, we offer the experience and qualifications to take on your case, as well as the compassion you need during this trying time. We’ll advocate for you to secure the best possible outcome for your divorce. Contact our legal team to set up a free consultation to discuss your case!