Divorce can be really expensive. For example, the 2007 Connecticut divorce between travel entrepreneur, Peter Tauck, and his ex-wife racked up around $13 million in legal fees. The bill reflected two years of highly-contested litigation costs, including nearly 700 filings and an 86-day trial. It is common for such strikingly high-cost divorces to reach news headlines, but how much does getting a divorce really cost?
Plenty of websites have popped up that promise an “easy and affordable divorce” ranging from $99 to $300. These cheap alternatives may be enticing, and could be useful for couples who have few assets and agree on every aspect of child custody and visitation – they just need lawyers to fill out the required forms.
However, most spouses disagree about at least a few things in connection with their divorce. One of the most hotly contested issues is often child custody and visitation. California courts require divorcing parents to attend mediation to see if custody issues can be resolved without a trial, and they often can be. However, in some cases it is necessary to have a child custody evaluation, which can be either broad or specific in scope. This involves retaining a child custody evaluator, who is an expert, usually a forensic therapist or psychologist. The evaluator meets with both parties, the children, and sometimes collateral contacts, and then prepares a report to assist the court in making custody and visitation orders. Evaluations range substantially in cost, which is usually divided equally between the parties.
Aside from custody disputes, divorces mostly concern money and can require complicated financial calculations to determine and equitably divide the community’s interest in your marital estate. Such calculations may include the percentage you contributed to your 401(k) during marriage, or the amount of post-separation mortgage payments on the family home. Sometimes these issues are complicated enough to require hiring a CPA or a forensic accountant. In addition, many people receive stock options, or RSU’s as part of their employment compensation packages, and it can be necessary to retain an expert for division. Further, sometimes it is necessary to obtain real property appraisals or fair rental surveys, which range in cost depending on the size of the property.
If you and your spouse have acquired a substantial estate, the work to determine the community’s interest and agree on an equitable division can really add up. Even in what seems like a simple case, the cost can be high depending on many factors. Hourly rates for attorneys can range anywhere from $150, at the very low end, up to $1,000. Spouses can definitely expect to pay attorney fees and court costs, and there may be additional costs for parent education classes, co-parent counseling, private mediation, or retaining various experts.
The good news is that most of the cost is a function of how quickly you and your spouse can reach an agreement – it is in part under your control. If agreement cannot be reached, it may be necessary to file motions, which can cost between $3,000 and $10,000 for preparation and appearance at a hearing. The need for depositions and trial will also increase the cost of your divorce. If you have no assets and no children, it is possible to walk away only spending the filing fees. If you are able to reach a global or partial settlement agreement then the cost of dissolving your marriage will be greatly reduced. However, if you cannot be in the same room as each other without becoming outraged, your divorce could easily cost more than your wedding.
However, if your spouse makes more money than you, or has a greater “access to income,” you may be able to obtain an order for “need-based” attorney’s fees, payable by your spouse. In addition, if your spouse or their attorney is being really unreasonable, you may have the right to obtain sanctions in the form of attorney fees and costs from your spouse. These sanctions can be ordered when conduct frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement.
On July 13, 2014, a Nebraska man, Michael Peterson, plead no contest to the first degree murder of his divorce attorney. After an unsuccessful malpractice suit seeking reimbursement for over $57,000 in attorney fees, Peterson shot his divorce attorney in the back with a high-velocity rifle. In order to avoid murderous rage upon receiving your bill, it is important to have an open and honest conversation about fees and costs, and ask for an estimated budget before going to trial.
Please be aware, however, that it is simply impossible to accurately estimate the cost of your divorce – there are too many possible factors for anyone to promise a certain outcome for a certain amount. If you have questions or are worried about the cost of your upcoming divorce, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists. Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex family law matters and offer a free consultation.
Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.