The cost of divorce varies between a few hundred dollars and several hundred thousand dollars. For some couples, the cost can even exceed millions in attorney fees, professional services, and court fees. Uncontested, do-it-yourself (DIY) divorces are among the least expensive divorces possible, while a contested divorce between spouses with children or extensive investments and assets can easily result in a lengthy, expensive divorce process.
Who Pays For a Divorce?
One or both spouses may pay for a divorce. The person who initially files for divorce, known as the petitioner, pays initial administrative and filing fees for the divorce. If that person hires an attorney, he or she is responsible for paying that initial cost, as well.
Subsequent Legal Fees
After the divorce process has begun, both spouses pay their own subsequent fees or petition the court to have the other party pay for part or all of their legal fees. For example, a spouse who is contesting a divorce may choose to pay her own attorney and all administrative costs, or she may ask the court to require her spouse to pay the cost of any legal fees she incurs during the process. The courts would then decide whether or not to require one spouse to pay the other’s fees. Couples may also agree before filing for divorce – or at any point during the proceedings – to split all associated costs 50-50.
It should also be noted that most courts offer fee waivers to those who qualify for financial relief. Legal aid and other income-based organizations and services may also provide affordable solutions to help offset the cost of divorce.
What Drives the Cost of Divorce Higher?
Contesting or claiming fault during a divorce will almost always cause the total cost of the proceedings to rise. This is because much more time, investigation, and examination go into these types of divorces. Divorces without contest or spouses claiming fault, however, can help save everyone a lot of money and time. Generally speaking, no-fault and uncontested divorces tend to also be more trouble-free as both parties have usually carefully planned out the divorce process before actually filing in court. Couples seeking a no-fault dissolution of marriage often agree to their own private terms. In this case, third parties aren’t needed to settle differences between them.
Some of the costs typically associated with contested or fault divorces include:
- Attorney fees (including additional time for phone calls, meetings, appearances, etc.)
- Filing fees
- Document preparation fees
- Fees for document copies
- Forensic accounting fees
- Private investigator fees
- Mediation fees
- Appraisal fees
- Tuition fees for parenting classes
- Therapy costs for spouses and/or children
Monthly Expenses & Debt
Couples considering divorce should bear in mind that each of these costs is likely in addition to a couple’s existing monthly costs for things like rent or a mortgage, household utility and maintenance bills, insurance payments, auto loan payments, school tuition, and daycare costs. Until a judge decides who will be responsible for these, both parties should expect to continue payments as usual.
In some states, both spouses are also responsible for all debt acquired during a marriage. This tends to be the case even if a credit card or other forms of debt are only in one spouse’s name. As divorce can be a contentious process, one spouse may decide to deliberately accumulate a higher than average debt due to an emotional reaction to the marriage’s demise. It’s not unusual for a surprised spouse to learn she or he has a responsibility to help pay such debts during the divorce process, either.
Is a Divorce Paid For All at Once?
Whether or not a divorce is paid for all at once depends on some factors, as well as the scope of services other professionals are hired for and their individual payment terms.
Paying for a DIY Divorce
As mentioned, a DIY divorce, where, typically, no fault is being claimed and no terms are being contested, tends to be among the least expensive divorces couples can engage in. This doesn’t mean that real property and assets won’t be divided or that one spouse won’t request that the other provides limited financial support after the divorce is finalized. However, these types of divorces tend to require minimum legal fees. This is because spouses aren’t relying upon attorneys to move the process forward, and they are only spending money on the necessary court and ancillary fees. In these instances, the actual filings are often paid for in one lump sum, which is usually a few hundred dollars.
Paying for a Contested Divorce
Divorces relying on assistance from attorneys and other professionals not only cost more than DIY divorces and take longer to complete, but these types tend to also be paid for over a longer period of time. For example, an attorney may bill for her services and allow clients to make payments in installments. Other professionals may also bill separately and require their own payment terms. It is not unusual for a spouse to continue to make payments on outstanding bills for such services several months after a divorce has been finalized.
Other Costs Associated With Divorce
Emotional and Psychological Effects
In addition to the time and financial cost of divorce, it may also cause an emotional and psychological toll on families. Former spouses, children, extended family members, and friends may experience strong feelings of loss and grief during and after a divorce. Children may feel particularly burdened by the bevy of emotions stemming from a divorce. Bickerings over custody, as well as a loss of time spent with one parent while spending time with another can result in conflicting emotions for the children of divorced parents. Often the subject of expensive and even vicious custody battles, children may engage in self-blame, as well as experience depression, confusion, and a host of other negative emotions.
Although a price tag isn’t readily attached to these costs, one may be since professional help might be necessary to help individuals recover from a divorce’s impact. For example, one or both spouses may invest in the services of a therapist or a life coach to help cope with the marriage’s demise and the task of moving forward in life as a single person. Parents may also find therapy and other activities useful for assisting minor children on processing new family dynamics both while the dissolution is in progress, as well as after it has been finalized. Often covered by insurance, some families may still have to pay for additional sessions with a therapist or for treatments that their insurance may not cover. In cases where one spouse loses health insurance coverage as a result of divorce, the cost of therapy can become a significant one. All of these things may contribute to an overall higher cost of divorce financially, as well as emotionally.
The Bottom Line on Divorce Costs
Financially, there is no dollar amount that can serve as the exact cost of divorce for every couple. Court filing fees, attorney fees, and other costs will vary depending upon where the divorce is being filed, whether or not a couple is proceeding with the dissolution on their own, as in a DIY divorce, or whether or not one or more attorneys will navigate the process on their behalf. Time is also a factor, as the longer the road to finalizing a divorce is, the more fees are likely to be incurred in the process.
Couples considering divorce should make their best effort to plan for all of the potential costs before actually filing to dissolve the marriage. Approaching divorce in this way may help spouses plan accordingly and make the cost of divorce less of a shock in the long run. By researching all of the filing fees a local jurisdiction may charge, becoming familiar with legal aid and assistance available for low to moderate income spouses, as well as engaging in initial consultations with attorneys, if necessary, couples should be able to calculate a rough estimate of what their total cost of divorce may be.
A qualified divorce attorney may also be able to provide foresight as to whether or not other professionals, such appraisers, and accountants will be necessary, which may help couples get a better idea of what their unique cost of divorce will be. Still, it is unlikely that a bottom-line figure can be known at the onset of divorce in cases where it may be contested or if children and large assets must be considered. The best approach in keeping costs down lies in spouses doing their best to settle all custody, visitation, and financial arrangements amongst themselves before attorneys and other professionals are involved.