For those ending a marriage, among the many concerns and thoughts running through their minds is, “how much will my divorce cost?” The short answer is that it depends on your situation. Let’s dig into some factors that can influence the cost so you are as prepared as possible throughout the process.
Have You Settled the “Big” Issues?
If you have settled the key issues — kids, money, and property — by way of court lawsuit or, preferably, a comprehensive separation agreement, then divorce is straightforward — at least from a legal standpoint. A simple, uncontested divorce will cost about $1400 – $1500, including court fees, couriers, and other expenses.
*Remember, (with a few seldom-used exceptions) you have to be separated for a year before your divorce can be finalized.
When you haven’t settled these critical issues, they accompany your divorce lawsuit; this can cost significantly more to resolve. The divorce itself is the easy part.
Whether part of a divorce lawsuit or a negotiated separation agreement, furnishing to your spouse and receiving from your spouse reliable and accurate financial information is an important part of the process and it can take some time. The need for accurate information to help settle parenting and time-sharing arrangements for your children can also be important.
Here, we’ll examine some of the typical questions that arise in the course of information-gathering:
- What is the income and job occupational status of each party?
- Is there property to divide?
- What debts are there?
- Is one party staying in the home?
- Are there assets such as pensions or businesses that need to be valued?
- Are there emergencies or critical situations that need to be addressed (e.g. do you need a safety-based restraining order)?
- Is child custody and/or support contentious?
- Has the other parent failed to pay support after separation?
- Is one party making unilateral decisions in terms of accruing debt or using money in joint accounts?
Because these issues can be quite complex, they substantially increase legal costs.
Collaborative Practice and Divorce
Is there a way to help reduce time and expense?
There can be. When both parties are forthright and cooperative, they can reach a negotiated settlement and hence a separation agreement. The cost here is much more moderate than with a lawsuit.
Under a collaborative practice approach you work through the issues at hand in an organized, user-friendly manner. There are established timelines, meetings are regularly scheduled, and there is often “homework” to do in order to move the process forward. Often, we have assistance from child-based professionals or financial professionals.
The simple, uncontested divorce can follow the successful completion of the separation agreement.
Collaborative practice is focused on the interests of you and your spouse, not “positions” that people typically take when they enter the court system. So, instead of walking in and saying, “I want sole custody of the children,” you’d approach it with a solutions-based suggestion. “I work from home; primary care of the kids may make more sense because they are not in school yet.” Your spouse may well have a different perspective and suggestion. And then you can work from there.
When Collaborative Practice May Not Work for You
Now, there are a few caveats: while arbitration and litigation are typically more expensive, they are the only avenues that assure you a result. That is, an arbitrator or a judge will make a decision if you and your former spouse cannot.
Collaborative practice works only if both parties approach it with right mindset — and for there to be a binding legal agreement, they ultimately have to sign on the dotted line. You can run the risk of spending time and money in a collaborative process that does not reach a final resolution. In our experience, that happens relatively seldom.
It is also not feasible for some couples, based on the power dynamics and climate of the relationship. In these cases, court or arbitration, while more expensive, may be the best, safest, option.
Every family’s makeup is unique; the dissolution of a marriage and the separation of assets, debts, property, and custody/support, then, will look different. And the cost will be different, depending on the issues we’ve discussed and the overall complexity of the situation.
Connect with an experienced family lawyer who can guide you through the nuances of the process, as well as your options. While we can’t tell you what your divorce will cost without knowing the specifics, we can say that consulting a lawyer will help you save money in the long run.