The Average Cost of a Divorce in the U.S.
Factors that impact the cost of a divorce and how couples can seek cost-effective options.
How much does a divorce cost?
Although many divorcing couples seek a finite answer, various factors often affect how much they can expect to pay in a divorce. Even with typical expenses, the variables that impact the final price tag make the average and median costs vary greatly.
According to Forbes, the median cost of a divorce in the U.S. is around $7,000 per person. Contrary to the median, the national average ranges between $15,000 and $20,000. In some instances where divorce is especially contentious and the parties spend significant time in litigation, each person could expect to pay closer to $100,000.
The cost of a divorce is impacted by:
- Whether you share children
- Whether you co-own property or other assets
- How long the divorce takes
- Whether your divorce is contested or uncontested
- The attorney you hire
- Your state’s predetermined court fees
- Whether you undergo mediation
In a study conducted by 24/7 Wall St., data from various divorce studies was compiled and assessed to break down the average cost of a divorce by state. In making all other factors equal, the price of a divorce in their research ranged from $8,400 to $17,500. Even with varying factors eliminated, some states displayed significantly higher averages than the upper average range.
These were the ten states with the highest costs for divorce for couples with children:
- California - $26,300
- New York - $25,600
- Delaware - $24,300
- Massachusetts - $23,900
- Texas - $23,500
- New Jersey - $23,400
- Connecticut - $23,300
- Georgia - $22,000
- Virginia - $21,800
- Colorado - $21,700
How much are attorney’s fees?
At a national average of $250 an hour, attorney fees can take a significant portion of your divorce expenses. Depending on whether hourly fees are deducted from your lawyer’s retainer, which range from $3,000 to $5,000, these hourly fees can quickly build into a large amount.
A factor that can significantly influence how much your family law attorney costs is your state’s average. Depending on where they practice and their experience level, your attorney could charge anywhere from $200 to $400 per hour. If you spend a considerable amount of time in litigation, you could easily spend thousands of dollars on legal assistance alone.
How much are court filing costs for a divorce?
To many divorcing couples’ surprise, court filing costs are insignificant compared to other fees. Court filing costs may vary based on what state you file in, and some states differentiate amounts by county. In the U.S., you can expect to pay anywhere from around $90 to over $400. Because costs can vary by state and sometimes by county, you should check with your local clerk of courts to ensure you have an accurate understanding of your potential expenses.
Do the costs stop once the divorce is finalized?
Even after your lawyer and court fees are paid, your expenses may not end once your divorce is finalized. Depending on your divorce settlement, you may be required to pay child support or alimony after the divorce. Child support is typically calculated by the courts in your state and required until your child is 18 years old. Alimony payments can vary in duration and may not be required by the court if child support is ordered. Still, there are instances where the courts have ordered a spouse to pay both after a divorce.
How can I lower my divorce costs?
Looking at these national averages can be a cause for concern due to the considerable expenses related to divorce. Fortunately, there are several ways you can avoid spending a significant amount of money on your divorce.
File for an uncontested divorce
If you and your soon-to-be ex are on good terms and can collaborate amicably, filing for an uncontested divorce is a productive option. An uncontested divorce can be filed if both spouses agree on important matters, including:
- How property will be handled
- How financial assets and debts will be allocated
- What parenting plan will be implemented
- What custody schedule is followed
By filing for an uncontested divorce, you can avoid paying fees for litigating your divorce in court and working with lawyers. In the case of a successful uncontested divorce, you would only pay your respective state or county’s filing fees.
Work with a mediator or arbitrator
If you are unable to work with your ex on your divorce productively, there are alternative options that you can pursue before hiring lawyers and going to court. In cases where divorcing couples can communicate but struggle with discussing specific topics, working with a mediator or arbitrator can be an effective tool to avoid litigation and reach an amicable agreement.
Mediation involves an unbiased third party who facilitates discussion and helps couples reach an agreement. Mediators do not offer their opinions on solutions. Arbitration, on the other hand, involves a third party who listens to discussions, reviews evidence, and delivers a final judgment that the courts can enforce.
Although mediation and arbitration have some key differences, the shared advantage is that each option is almost always significantly less expensive than hiring lawyers and enduring litigation.
Represent yourself in court
People who wish to forego lawyers but cannot avoid divorce proceedings can represent themselves in court through a “pro se” divorce. In most cases of pro se divorce, people forego traditional legal representation to avoid the cost of working with an attorney. While self-representation in court is best when you can file an uncontested or simplified divorce, there are few other situations where a pro se divorce is an effective option.
Pro se divorces are typically not recommended if:
- Parents cannot reach an agreement on a parenting plan
- Your ex hires a lawyer
- You or your ex pursue a fault-based divorce
- Domestic violence is involved
- You cannot keep track of deadlines and procedural requirements
Even if you start with a pro se divorce, you do not have to commit to that choice for the entire time you spend in court. Those who begin with self-representation and later discover it is ineffective can always hire a lawyer even after the proceedings have started.
Seek legal aid
If you are concerned with the costs of seeking legal assistance, there are options available that provide representation at no charge. Each state in the U.S. has some form of legal aid, consisting of groups of lawyers who take on clients who cannot pay for legal assistance. There are also pro bono lawyers who occasionally take on cases for free while also handling paid clients. While most pro bono and legal aid occurs outside of family law, some lawyers specializing in family law will provide legal aid and pro bono work for divorce cases.
Although the financial and emotional impact can vary based on different circumstances, parents transitioning to co-parenting after divorce must move forward while prioritizing their children’s best interests. Being a consistent parent is critical, and co-parenting communication services like TalkingParents can help. Parents can send timestamped messages, make recorded phone and video calls, coordinate their child’s schedule on a shared calendar, and take advantage of many other features that encourage accountability in a secure platform. Every interaction in the service is stored on an Unalterable Record, making it easy for co-parents to provide a clear picture of their shared parenting experience if they must return to court.