One of the most pressing questions the majority of people ask at the start of the divorce process is, “Just how much will all this cost?”
Since the circumstances of each divorce are so unique, it is unrealistic to predict what the total cost will be.
Every factor, from the amount of property to divide to each party’s willingness to cooperate, affects the overall cost, and many of these aspects are fluid during the process.
You can find figures listed online estimating the “average” cost of divorce, but even these range wildly from anywhere between $4,000 to $15,000 or more. There is just no feasible way to determine what your case will cost until everything is settled and you can go back and calculate what was spent.
Factors that drive up costs
The most basic expense of a divorce tends to be administration and court fees, which can vary by state. An initial filing fee to begin a divorce action usually ranges anywhere from less than $100 to more than $400.
There are also additional fees for filing other documents with the court during your case. Unfortunately, these are usually not the only expenses throughout a divorce. Other factors that can be quite costly include:
Attorney fees – Lawyers charge an hourly fee that can range anywhere from $50 to near $700 depending on their experience and reputation. As a rough estimate, you can probably expect to pay somewhere around $250 per hour. Also keep in mind when you’re hiring an attorney that just because they charge a lot does not necessarily mean they are better.
Contentious issues – Arguments over contentious issues such as property division, spousal support, custody and child support, etc. can require intensive negotiations to come to an agreement. Sometimes, expert witnesses are required and that can cause fees to quickly swell.
Going to court – While it is tempting to fight your ex tooth and nail on every issue, the longer it takes you to reach an agreement the more your divorce will cost you. Attorney fees continue to snowball and if you end up going to court then you can expect the overall cost to increase dramatically.
Losing your cool – During divorce, otherwise rational people often let their emotions dictate their decision-making process. Fighting over petty issues or taking too many principled stands will only result in the cost of your divorce increasing.
Despite all the factors during divorce that can drive up the total cost, there are some simple strategies you can utilize to cut down expenses.
Minimize attorney fees – Since most lawyers bill hourly, every interaction you have with your attorney will cost you. Make sure every interaction you have with your attorney is necessary and avoid using them as an outlet to vent. Organize all the questions you have and save them for one email or phone call rather than many different contacts throughout the week.
Settle outside of court – Litigation is pricey. There’s no way around it. So you and your spouse must find a way to work together to resolve as many issues as possible if you want to avoid massive legal fees. You’ll also have a better chance of reaching a mutually satisfying agreement if you work together rather than letting a judge make all the decisions.
Utilize mediation – Mediation is one of the most effective ways to come to a fair settlement on the more contentious issues. This does involve paying the mediator by the hour, but it can still save you in the long run if you avoid court. Collaborative divorce is also an option that seeks to minimize conflict that you might consider depending on your circumstances.
Embrace amicability – Keep in mind you and your ex both want this to be over as quickly as possible. The best way to speed things up and keep costs down is if both of you commit to working towards an agreement that is truly fair for both sides. You both need to be completely honest and respond in a timely fashion to all requests. A lack of disclosure will require more time to uncover the truth and breeds an atmosphere of mistrust around the negotiations.
It is tempting to try to calculate an estimation of what all your expenses will be and how you think your spouse will react to everything, but it really is impossible to predict the total cost until you go through the process.
It’s a good idea to plan your budget for a final tally that might be more than you imagined. That way you have a head start on rebuilding your finances as you start the next chapter of your life.