How Much Does an Uncontested Divorce Cost?
- 1. Cost Difference Between Uncontested and Contested Divorce
- 2. With an Attorney
- 3. Without an Attorney
- 4. Through the Collaboration Process
- 5. Getting a Divorce When You Don't Have The Money
Divorce can be a costly matter, especially where the parties involved cannot reach an agreement. Even when they can, however, the average cost of a divorce starts at around $10,000 for each party. This is no small sum and it is not just the attorney's fees to take into account when filing.
Before embarking on this route, it is important to bear in mind several other costs that can add to the overall bill, such as:
- Filing divorce papers at your local county court (filing fees per state are listed on this page)
- Divorce and Parenting education classes
- Mediation (which may negate the need for an attorney)
- Psychological assessments for adults or children
- Refinancing the mortgage loan on a home
Cost Difference Between Uncontested and Contested Divorce
An uncontested divorce will be less costly than a contested one mainly because it is not a lengthy, drawn-out process where both parties are battling each other in court on every issue. Where the divorce is being contested, a court will have to determine most issues on behalf of the parties involved, usually resulting in higher legal costs. On the other hand, if the parties concerned can work together to negotiate or reach an agreement on significant issues such as division of assets or custody of any children, there should be no reason to litigate in court, accruing large legal fees.
If a divorce is contentious, it is worth considering the use of mediation where both parties work to reach a solution to their issues. This is an alternative and helpful route to explore as it facilitates an amicable parting of ways, thereby reducing overall costs, not to mention stress.
With an Attorney
In most contentious cases, it is usual for each party to have an attorney involved in the divorce proceedings. If you decide to have an attorney help you, it is their role to advise you of your legal rights, represent you in communications with your partner, and appear in court to advocate on your behalf. Your attorney will negotiate for you according to your interests, providing you with objective advice on issues such as distribution of marital assets, custody arrangements, and preparation of divorce papers. Therefore, it is beneficial to appoint an attorney, especially if the divorce is particularly complicated or where matters have become acrimonious.
Where matters are being contested, a divorce attorney can help you litigate your case and provide you with representation in court. Therefore, the involvement and the costs of an attorney will generally be higher in a contested divorce and in cases where there is a greater level of complexity to the case.
Average Fees for a Divorce Lawyer
It is common practice for attorneys to charge by the hour, with average fees ranging from $100+ per hour for a newly qualified lawyer to upwards of $300+ for more experienced attorneys.
These sums can appear eye-watering to most people, so it is understandable that you may reach out to the lowest bidder (it is not unusual to see fees range from around $30 to $500 per hour). However, an inexpensive attorney who charges less per hour may lack the necessary experience to offer you the best advice and negotiate the best settlement for you compared to a more experienced practitioner. It may pay to hire someone with a reputable track-record in this area.
Do Divorce Lawyers Offer Payment Plans?
The upfront costs involved in divorce proceedings can present difficulties for many people, especially when the divorce is contentious. The good news is that many divorce lawyers are willing to work with their clients to come up with a payment plan in advance.
Although there is no legal requirement to offer them, due to the costly nature of divorce proceedings, most law firms and independent attorneys are willing to accommodate their clients by way of a payment plan. This is discretionary, however, so it is advisable to check this point at your first meeting.
Attorney Fee Factors in Divorce Costs
When you know the clock is ticking by the hour – increasing your attorney's fees – it is helpful to know what areas can take up the most time in divorce proceedings. The overall time needed to negotiate and arrive at a settlement will vary depending on certain factors; an indicator of some of the main issues that require negotiation are:
- Division of assets and settlement of debts
- Custody of any children
- Child support
The more both parties can reach a consensus on such points without having to battle back and forth, the less time an attorney will need to spend on them, resulting in lower fees. The more points that are in contention and need to be agreed upon, the more this will delay matters. If an agreement cannot be reached due to dispute - or simply due to the complex nature of the case - the higher the attorney's fee for negotiation and representation in court will be, resulting in a more expensive divorce.
Divorce Filing Fees and Typical Attorney Fees by State
Please note: You should expect small differences in fees for photocopies, notary fees mailing, process server fees, judge's funds, and other charges. These are specific to the state and county where you file. Fees are always changing per state and county. Contacting your county clerk's office is the best way to find accurate fees.
|State||Average Filing Fees||Other Divorce Costs and Attorney Fees|
|Alabama||$400 ($50 administrative fee included)||Average fees: $10,000|
|Alaska||$250 (additional $75 fee to file a modification for child custody, visitation, or support, or for spousal maintenance or property division)||Average fees: $10,000+|
|Arizona||$280||Average fees: $10,000+|
|Arkansas||$165||Average fees: $8,000+|
|California||$435 (Ask for a fee waiver)||Average fees: $14,000|
|Colorado||$230||Average fees: $11,000+|
|Connecticut||$360 (excluding paternity legal action)||Average fees: $12,000+|
|Delaware||$165||Average fees: $12,000+|
|District of Columbia (Washington D.C.)||$80||Average fees: $10,000|
|Florida||$409 (Cost changes per county. Example from Duval County Circuit.)||Average fees: $10,000+|
|Georgia||$400||Average fees: $11,000+|
|Hawaii||$215 (without minor children), $265 (with minor children)||Average fees: $9,000+|
|Idaho||$154 (without minor children), $207 (with minor children)||Average fees: $8,000+|
|Illinois||$334 (District specific fees. This example is from Lake County Circuit.)||Average fees: $10,000+|
|Indiana||$157||Average fees: $9,000|
|Iowa||$185||Average fees: $9,000+|
|Kansas||$400||Average fees: $8,000+|
|Kentucky||$148 (without an attorney), $153 (with an attorney)||Average fees: $8,000+|
|Louisiana||$150 to $250||Average fees: $10,000|
|Maine||$120||Average fees: $8,000+|
|Maryland||$165||Average fees: $11,000|
|Massachusetts||$200||Average fees: $12,000+|
|Michigan||$175 (without minor children), $255 (with minor children) (District specific fees. This example is from Wayne County Circuit.)||Average fees: $10,000+|
|Minnesota||$365||Average fees: $9,000|
|Mississippi||$400||Average fees:: $8,000+|
|Missouri||$133.50 (without minor children), $233.50 (with minor children) (District specific fees. This example is from Jefferson County Circuit.)||Average fees: $10,000+|
|Montana||$170||Average fees: $6,000+|
|Nebraska||$158||Average fees: $8,000+|
|Nevada||$217 (first appearance), $299 (joint petition)||Average fees: $10,000+|
|New Hampshire||$400||Average fees: $9,000+|
|New Jersey||$300||Average fees: $12,000+|
|New Mexico||$137||Average fees: $6,500+|
|New York||$335||Average fees: $13,500+|
|North Carolina||$75 (absolute divorce), $150 (for civil cases in district court)||Average fees: $10,000+|
|North Dakota||$80||Average fees: $8,000+|
|Ohio||$350 (District specific fees. This example is from Washington County Circuit.)||Average fees: $9,000+|
|Oklahoma||$183||Average fees: $9,000+|
|Oregon||$301||Average fees: $10,000|
|Pennsylvania||$201.75||Average fees: $11,000+|
|Puerto Rico||$400||Average fees: $10,000|
|Rhode Island||$400||Average fees: $10,000+|
|South Carolina||$150||Average fees: $10,000|
|South Dakota||$95||Average fees: $8,500+|
|Tennessee||$184.50 (without minor children), $259.50 (with minor children)||Average fees: $9,500+|
|Texas||$300 (depending on child support or custody factors)||Average fees: $12,500|
|Utah||$325||Average fees: $10,400|
|Vermont||$90 (if you are a resident of the state), $295 (without a stipulation)||Average fees: $9,000|
|Virginia||Use this calculator to find your district's fees.||Average fees: $11,500|
|Washington||$314||Average fees: $10,000+|
|West Virginia||$134||Average fees: $8,000+|
|Wisconsin||$184.50 (with no child support or alimony), $194.50 (with child support or alimony)||Average fees: $8,500+|
|Wyoming||$85 (District specific fees. This example is from Laramie County Circuit.)||Average fees: $9,000|
Without an Attorney
When it comes to divorce, the least expensive option is choosing to file for an uncontested divorce without the need for an attorney. Where both parties agree on the important issues, there is no need to hire an attorney to represent them. However, if clarification is needed on certain issues or points of law, an attorney can still be consulted.
Before divorce proceedings can begin, one spouse must file a legal petition asking the court to terminate the marriage. This can be done through the local family court or, if permitted, through an online service. Depending on the state, it may also be possible in uncontested divorce cases for both spouses to file a joint petition for divorce. Whether this is done online or through a family courthouse, a fee of approximately $300 is required.
Often viewed as an easier and simpler method, the other option may be to file for an uncontested divorce using an online service - if your state laws permit this route. Both parties need to agree to the divorce and the details of the divorce for this process to work. The online service will then guide you through the necessary steps needed to file your paperwork as required by your state. The costs of using such a service usually range from $150 to $1,500. However, this can vary depending on the specifics of your situation.
Once all required documentation has been filed and the period stated by your state law has elapsed, you will appear before a judge to finalize the divorce.
Through the Collaboration Process
Many divorce cases lie somewhere in between contested and uncontested. Parties may be able and willing to see eye to eye on some aspects of their divorce yet find it hard to agree on others. In the last few years, a process known as a 'collaborative divorce' has become popular, providing an alternative route for those seeking to reach an agreement outside the courtroom. This is something of a hybrid between mediation and going to court to settle your differences and such proceedings are amicable for the most part. Depending on the case's complexity, the cost of a collaborative divorce starts at around $10,000.
In a collaborative divorce, both parties will agree at the outset to work collaboratively to reach a solution without resorting to going to court. Before starting collaborative meetings - also known as 'four-way meetings' - each party will consult separately with their respective attorney specially trained in mediation and negotiation.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the attorneys will withdraw from the case, and the parties can then choose to litigate them in court.
Getting a Divorce When You Don't Have The Money
The more both parties can reach an agreement on their issues without resorting to expensive litigation, the cheaper the divorce will be. Where money is a factor, it is always advisable to explore alternatives, especially where things have become contentious. However, in all cases, whether harmonious or not, overall costs to obtaining a divorce can be reduced by exploring options such as:
- Do as much as you can yourself
- Listing all the issues you and your partner agree on
- Collaborative divorce
- Working with an attorney on certain parts of your case only (known as 'limited scope representation')
- Availability of a payment plan
In addition to seeking free advice at a family law clinic (available at some family law courts), many attorneys offer free consultations. It may be helpful to discuss your options with some experienced divorce lawyers in your area beforehand. In the course of your consultation, it is advisable to ask what their fee is and the length of time they estimate your divorce will take.