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The average cost of a divorce is around $15,000, but the expense can vary dramatically. A contentious divorce that drags out for years and includes a custody dispute can cost more than $100,000.
The final price tag for a divorce may include:
- Court filing costs.
- Attorney fees.
- Parent education classes.
- Mediation fees.
- Costs for evaluations, such as psychiatric evaluations.
- “Guardian ad litem” fees (we’ll explain those shortly).
If you and your spouse own property together, you might also pay:
- Refinancing costs.
- Government recording fees.
- Additional hourly attorney fees.
Here are factors that can impact your divorce costs.
If you and your soon-to-be ex cannot agree on settlement terms, you may need to litigate the matter in court. Your attorney costs and court filing fees must be paid upfront. Attorneys’ rates vary based on where you live, but you’ll be billed hourly. The more you disagree on the terms, the more expensive the divorce becomes.
Often when couples have custody disputes, the court will appoint a “guardian ad litem” to advocate on behalf of the child. You and your spouse will be responsible for this expense.
Before parting ways, it may be a good idea to open a new credit card to establish your own credit.
An alternative to litigation is mediation, with a mediator who acts as a neutral third party to help both spouses come to agreeable settlement terms. This can be far less expensive than litigating in court and usually results in finalizing your case in a shorter time period. Depending on where you live, a mediator may charge $100 to $200 per hour. Mediation can take place in one day or over several sessions.
In addition to being less expensive, mediation allows you both to control the settlement terms. Unlike divorce court, mediation is a collaborative process. Working together on an agreement may help preserve your relationship with your ex-spouse, which will be invaluable if you have children together.
If you and your partner haven’t been married long, don’t have children, have few assets to divide, and your divorce is uncontested, you may be able to forgo the attorney and represent yourselves. This is especially true if your state has a simplified divorce process.
Representing yourselves is the least expensive way to divorce. You may have to pay only the court filing fees. If your situation is more complex, you can go ahead without an attorney but should proceed with caution. One or both of you may be relinquishing significant legal rights.
Some states allow couples to file for divorce jointly. If you’ve agreed on the terms of your split, one of you might hire an attorney to draw up the paperwork. This ensures that all the documentation is in legal order but keeps the cost to a minimum. It’s important to understand that the attorney represents only the party who hired him or her. The party who is not represented could be at a significant legal disadvantage.
Drive down divorce costs
To keep your divorce costs down, attorneys advise spouses to follow these tips:
- Try to be amicable. When it comes to divorce, it pays to play nice. Working with your soon-to-be ex to come to an agreement moves your divorce along and minimizes attorney expenses.
- Understand what you’re agreeing to. Not fully understanding how your divorce will impact your finances can cost you dearly. A good attorney can help ensure your spouse isn’t hiding unpaid taxes, and that you’re considering factors like asset depreciation and how inflation will impact your long-term budget when agreeing to a settlement.
- Don’t drag it out. Attorneys agree that the No. 1 factor that drives up divorce prices is how long a case lasts. The more hours your attorney has to spend on your case, the more costs you incur.
- Consider a postnuptial agreement. Attorneys recommend that couples get prenuptial agreements to keep costs down in the event of a divorce. However, couples who don’t get a prenup might consider a postnuptial agreement. Postnuptial agreements spell out how assets and debts will be split in the event the couple divorces. However, be advised that postnuptial agreements aren’t in everyone’s best interest. If you’re the low wage-earner in the family, a postnuptial agreement may result less property or alimony for you than if the case went to trial. Consult with an attorney before agreeing to a postnuptial agreement.