Divorce cost in the US can vary from $300-$200,000. The easiest, uncontested, online divorces, cost about $300-$1,800. A divorce that requires mediation may cost $5,000-$9,000, while a collaborative method may be up to $25,000-$50,000. The most difficult, litigated divorces, usually cost $20,000-$200,000.
The average divorce cost in the US is between $15,000-$20,000. The biggest outlay is a lawyer’s fee, which is $250 per hour, on average, in the country, but may range anywhere from $50-$650 per hour.
The cost of a particular divorce case is almost impossible to estimate. It depends on many factors, such as local laws and fees, the number and nature of proceedings required, the professional you hire, among others. The final price per couple can only be calculated after a detailed discussion with your spouse and/or your lawyer. Yet, you can see most fixed costs for your state and hourly rates of local lawyers. To do this, please use the form below to choose your state or click on it on the map below the search form.
Factors That Influence Divorce Cost in the USA
All the influencing factors can be gathered into four main groups:
- The chosen method of divorce and the specialist required.
- The state or country you and your spouse live in.
- The complication level of your case.
- The extent of cooperation of the spouses.
Factor #1: The Chosen Method of Divorce and the Specialist Required
There are five main divorce methods:
- Do-it-yourself (DIY; uncontested).
- Internet (online).
- Litigated (lawyer-driven).
A DIY divorce implies you have no disagreements with your spouse and are able to carry out all the proceedings yourself. There’s no child custody or property division difficulties, and therefore, no specialist is necessary. You both agree on the current issues and how to fix them, are ready to collect essential papers, and then file the divorce in court on your own. In the US, it’s acceptable for anyone to represent themselves in court without an attorney.
How much: A DIY divorce may cost $300-$1,800, depending on the state you live in, whether you have children (parenting class needed), and whether you need a publication of legal notice (in case you can’t find your spouse). The court filing fee may be about $300, the serving papers fee about $50, and a parenting class $125 or more. A newspaper publication may also take around $350.
In some cases, during the proceedings, one of the spouses wants to contest the divorce. If this happens, you have the right to hire a lawyer or proceed on your own. At that point, the divorce fee and length of the proceedings may change. Furthermore, there may be post-divorce tax changes you may not know about at the beginning of the process. These include how you file your tax return at the end of the year, the taxes on alimony or child support, asset division, etc. To ensure you are aware of all the costs you will need to cover, consult your financial advisor or an accountant. You can also find all the necessary information on taxes affecting divorce cost on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) site.
How long: A DIY divorce takes from several weeks to several months.
This method is similar to DIY, in the sense you and your spouse handle the proceedings yourself. However, in this case, you do it online. There are special services like Complete Case or Law Depot that assist you, by pointing out the main issues a couple may need to solve during the divorce. The online part of the divorce includes creating an account, completing an interview (if needed), and getting the necessary papers. According to the answers you provide, the service output the required paperwork. You only have to print, sign, and file them as per the instructions.
NOTE: Only one spouse should register on the website or in the program.
You can also avoid the interview and still get help with the uncontested divorce online. There are online services that can provide you with all the forms you’re required to fill in. There are specific forms for every state, and any other special condition, like marital assets or children.
How much: The cost of an online divorce may vary from $300-$1,800, including the registration fee of $300, plus other proceeding-related fees.
How long: An online divorce may take up to a few months. However, completing the interview can take as little as a couple of hours. The rest of the time is for filing the documents to the court and scheduling a court date.
Divorce mediation includes three people: you, your spouse, and a mediator. The latter is a specialist well versed in potential divorce issues. They don’t take any side, and work towards an agreement between both parties. The mediator helps:
- Identify the issues and find common ground.
- Make well-informed decisions, which will be best for both spouses and/or their child(ren).
- Go through negotiations on difficult issues.
- Draft a Memorandum of Understanding with the details of the agreements.
How much: A mediated divorce costs between $5,000-$9,000, depending on the number of sessions necessary, and the specialist you choose. The price may also vary, according to the state you live in. Moreover, if severe complications occur, additional fees may be charged.
How long: A mediated divorce takes about 2-6 months, including 1-4 two-hour session(s) with the mediator, paperwork, filing the divorce, etc.
Collaborative divorce involves the spouses and their lawyers. All four people sign a participation agreement, which is a contract implying both sides will commit and cooperate. If there’s no solution to the current disagreements, the lawyers may be disqualified.
As part of this method, the four people gather together and negotiate the present issues. Other specialists (conflict coaches, financial advisors, child specialists, etc.), may be invited if necessary.
How much: A collaborative divorce may cost from $25,000-$50,000. The final price depends on the lawyers’ hourly fees, usually about $200-$350, and the other specialists’ fees (on average about $100-$200 per hour). The more complicated the case is, the more hours needed for the professionals to hear out the problems, do relevant research, and come to conclusions.
How long: Such a divorce may take 8-14 months, during which the spouses attend group sessions to negotiate. The duration of the proceedings may also change to suit the schedules of all the specialists involved.
Such a divorce consists of one to three stages, for which one, or both, spouses hire a lawyer for themselves. Each lawyer advocates a particular side’s interests.
The three stages are:
- Court-ordered mediation.
Usually, courts order couples to use methods of mediation first. Sometimes the choice of a mediator doesn’t depend on you or your spouse. Your lawyer(s) is/are present during the sessions. The mediator may be a child specialist or an economic expert, depending on the unresolved issues.
- Direct attorney negotiation.
If the disagreements are still present after the first stage, you can talk about your needs with your lawyer. Your spouse has a right to do the same with theirs, in a separate room. After both side’s conditions are identified, the lawyers meet and negotiate the most suitable resolution.
If there are still problems after the second stage, your case will go to trial. The procedure may last for years, and you will need to have witnesses and evidence to support each statement. Eventually, the judge will make the decision.
How much: The divorce cost may be between $20,000-$200,000. If the case goes to trial, the cost usually starts at $78,000. If you decide to finish after the second stage, you may pay a bit more than $30,000. The difference also depends on the number of hours you need a lawyer for.
A lawyer usually needs 10 hours for preparation, and if the case is severe, they may require more time. Then, there are at least 4 hours of case-related research, and roughly the same time to wait for the judge to hear each case. 1-4 hours will be necessary for the hearings to be carried out, after which the lawyer will require another 4 hours (or more) to fill in the paperwork. Some attorneys also have costs for the trial days – about $3,000-$7,000 a day.
How long: The time needed may also vary from 18 months to 3 years, depending on the complexity of the case.
NOTE: This is a simplified description. Such divorces may require different steps, depending on your location and the lawyers you hire.
Factor #2: The State or Country You and Your Spouse Live In
If You Live in the Same State
The sum of money needed to get a divorce varies from state to state, depending on their economic condition.
The most important financial points to cover during a divorce are the court filing and attorney fees. If the case goes to trial, its cost will be the deciding factor of the final price. Currently, court filing costs range from $70-$435, in different states. An hour of a lawyer’s service may range in price from $50-$650, depending on the state and experience of the specialist. A 2-day trial may cost about $25,000, only including legal fees.
States with the Most Expensive Divorce and Attorney Fees
If you live in California, you will need to pay $435 to the local court and about $402 to an attorney per hour. A divorce takes at least 6 months there.
If you live in Florida, the divorce cost for you will include $409 for filing and about $326 for a lawyer per hour. Divorce proceedings last 200 days or more there.
If you live in Minnesota, you will have to pay $400 for court filing and about $308 for every hour of a lawyer’s work. The duration of divorce proceedings will be about 1-3 months, if there are no complications.
If you live in Pennsylvania, the divorce fee will include $361 for court filing and approximately $353 per hour of an attorney service. The proceedings may take 3 months (for an uncontested divorce) or more.
- New Jersey.
If you live in New Jersey, the divorce fee will include $300 for court filing and a lawyer fee of $365 per hour. The duration of a divorce there is a year or more.
States with the Cheapest Divorce and Attorney Fees
If you live in Maine, a divorce papers filing will cost you $120, while an attorney’s hourly fee is approximately $207. The proceedings last for about 2 months there.
If you live in Mississippi, you will have to pay $113 for court filing and about $212 per hour for a lawyer’s service. The duration of a divorce is at least 2 months.
- South Dakota.
If you live in South Dakota, your divorce cost will include a $95 court filing fee and an approximate $262 per hour of a lawyer’s service. The proceedings last 2 months or more.
- North Dakota.
If you live in North Dakota, you will have to pay $80 to file the papers and about $162 for each hour of attorney assistance. The divorce proceedings will last for around 30-90 days.
If you live in Wyoming, you will pay $70 as a filing fee for a divorce and about $187 per lawyer per hour. In this state, your divorce may take about 1 to 3 months.
If Your Spouse Lives in Another State
If your spouse lives in another state and you are the one filing divorce papers, you may have one more fee to cover – the paperwork service. You will have 60-120 days since the day you file the papers.
A person over 18 years old (or the local sheriff), has to deliver the needed papers to your spouse. You can also send them by post if you find it more convenient. The service may cost you $35-$40 if you want a sheriff to serve the papers. Furthermore, the court may charge you $5 for the summons they provide. Mailing costs may differ, depending on the state, distance form your spouse, and the type of service you choose.
Also, if you can’t locate your spouse, you will need to publish an official statement. Most US newspapers may charge $100 and more for this.
If you need the whole process of divorcing a person who has left the state, you can find it here.
If Your Spouse Lives in Another Country
If your spouse lives in another country, there are some additional proceedings and divorce costs. Firstly, you will have to contact the embassy of that country. While the overall divorce proceedings depend on the laws of the state you live in, the way you serve the paperwork depend on the laws of the country your spouse resides in. You should learn whether you can send the documents by mail, as countries like Germany, Japan, China, Poland, Argentina, Venezuela, and Switzerland, don’t allow it. For additional information, you can also visit the US Department of State.
If you can’t send the papers by mail, you will still have to translate them into the language of that country, whether your spouse speaks and reads English or not. Then, you will have to go to the court and learn whether they can request the process of service. In this case, the court will transfer the needed paperwork to the country where your spouse lives.
The expenses are the official translation of every document, the mailing fees, and the court transfer fees. They all vary greatly from state to state, embassy to embassy, and firm to firm. Also, if you need to publish an official statement in another country, this may cost you a further $200.
Factor #3: The Complication Level of Your Case
A divorce may require more time and money if:
- You have children.
- You have marital property to divide.
Divorce Cost If You Have Children
Deciding on child custody and solving related issues needs an attorney’s time, so the divorce fee grows with every hour of the specialist’s work. The main decisions are about who gets the child custody, what the visitation rights are for the other spouse, and where the children spend holidays. As every legal action must be preceded by court filing, this will add another $250.
You may need to go through a custody evaluation, involving a specialist who will learn about your family affairs and help decide on custody. The cost of the procedure may vary from $1,000-$10,000. The total price depends on whether you hire a county evaluator (approximately $1,000-$2,500) or a private one (up to $10,000). This, in turn, depends on whether the judge orders evaluation (with a county specialist), or you decide yourself (with a private one).
Moreover, if an older child, or only child, prefers one parent over the other, they have a right for their own lawyer. The age required of the child, and thus, the possibility of such a proceeding, varies from state to state. If granted the opportunity, the whole family will have to attend hearings to solve the problem. If there are allegations one of the parents is mentally ill or neglectful towards the child(ren), psychological sessions may be necessary. Their cost may be a part of the custody evaluation, but this isn’t always the case.
How much: A typical divorce with children involved costs $14,000-$25,000 per spouse, where most of the money goes to an attorney and child custody specialists. The cost is lower when the decision on child custody is the only problem. If child support is needed, or the case goes to trial, the cost increases rapidly. Roughly 75% of divorcing couples settle the problem themselves without the need for a trial.
How long: Divorces with children involved usually take 9-17 months, depending on the complexity of the case. The average duration of the proceedings is about 11 months.
Child support influences the post-divorce expenses of one of the spouses. There are different formulas for calculating the amount, which varies by state. The deciding factor in each of them is the income of the spouse paying the support. If the total income isn’t enough to cover expenses, the spouse receiving the support can prove it to the judge and get additional alimony.
Divorce Cost If You Have Marital Property
To solve a property-related issue, you will need more hours from your attorney. Plus, all the assets have to be evaluated, so an appraiser will be necessary. Financial advisors may also become of service, adding to the fees you will have to pay.
How much: Regular divorces involving property can cost from $8,000-$24,000 per spouse, with the average of $13,000. If it’s a high net worth divorce (a divorce involving high net worth individuals with about $1 million in fluid assets), the average cost is $33,000. The final cost depends on the amount of property owned together. At least 72% of couples buy things together when married, and about 31% can’t settle issues over property without a trial.
How long: The range is 9 to 17 months in this case, with an average duration of 12 months.
Dividing the so-called common property (bought and/or owned together during marriage) may be difficult. Nine states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin) require the common property to be divided equally. However, splitting a car or house is impossible, so one of the spouses may buy the other one out or, for example, give a car and bank account savings as payment for the half of the house. Some couples decide to sell everything and divide the money, which is much easier.
Other states follow the laws of equitable division. In most cases, the property is divided equally, if there are no serious issues and claims of ownership. If there are, the judge considers health condition, abuse, if any, marital asset amount, and earning power, etc., of the spouses. If there are hidden assets the judge discovers, the spouse who hid them may be forced to pay 50%-100% of the cost of it, to the other spouse.
You can learn more about the rules and proceedings of property division here.
There is no formula for calculating the overall cost of spousal support. However, the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act recommends considering:
- The age of the spouse who needs support.
- Their physical, mental, and financial condition.
- The length of the marriage.
- The time needed for the spouse to become self-sufficient.
Spousal support may be required to help a person become self-sufficient, in case the judge decides to split the assets unevenly. It’s important to remember, equitable doesn’t always mean even – it means fair. The court decision may be that it’s fair to divide your assets evenly, no matter how much you or your spouse have invested more in them. Or, the decision may also turn the other way, leaving one of the spouses with almost nothing.
Factor #4: The Extent of Cooperation of the Spouses
The level of conflict determines the method of divorce, the need for attorneys, financial and child specialists, and consequentially, divorce cost.
If Spouses Are Fully Ready to Cooperate
If the couple doesn’t have children and has little marital assets, a divorce may cost as little as $300-$500. If some property and/or children are involved, the cost may rise to $1,800-$2,000. This is if the couple finds common ground and settles all issues themselves. The case may not need an attorney or advisors, but will need some research of the laws of your state.
In this case, the divorce fee will include a court filing fee (average $200), and paperwork notary fees of about $10. You may need to pay another $100-$500 for gaining or changing child custody. If you need a real estate appraisal, add another $300-$400. You may also purchase a divorce kit, which includes all necessary forms, for about $100. There may be other expenses added, according to the specifications of your case, but in general, calm, uncontested divorces cost less than $1,800.
If you think you need an attorney’s help, you may need to pay a flat fee of $200-$1,500 (about $1,000 per issue, if you have any), depending on the case. Your attorney may also charge an hourly fee, instead of a flat one. The cost will then change, depending on the fee of the specialist you choose ($50-$650).
If Spouses Aren’t Ready to Cooperate
The average contested divorce may cost about $25,000. However, if there are complications and the need for a trial, the cost may rise rapidly to $100,000, or even $200,000 if high net worth is involved.
If you have a difficult case and no common ground with your spouse, you both need attorneys. You will have to pay them per hour (average $250), or cover a flat fee of at least $1,000 per issue. So, if you have child custody and support, spousal support, family home, bank account, car, and business division, you may already need to pay at least $7,000.
Furthermore, if you pay a flat fee, your attorney will limit the hours they spend on your case. It’s acceptable if the divorce is easy, but if there are complications, you will need your lawyer to commit and fight for your interests. So, hourly pay is preferable. The average hourly attorney expenses for a mediocre contested divorce are about $12,800. Many lawyers have a retainer fee of about $10,000, depending on the complexity of the case.
Although most of the money will go to a lawyer, don’t forget to include the cost of smaller mandatory fees. These are court filing fees, depending on the state ($70-$435), and serving the documents to your spouse ($35-$100).
A child custody battle in a contested divorce may cost $5,000-$35,000. The fee depends on the number of children involved, whether the oldest needs an attorney, whether an evaluation is needed, etc. Also, the number of hours your attorneys spend on the case is important to the overall cost, as well as whether the case goes to trial.
Complicated property division will also require more time from your attorney, as well as an appraiser service. Evaluating one item may cost about $300 or more. If you want to prove the item is a separate property (only yours) or you have more rights on it, your lawyer will need to research the issue and defend you, for another $5,000 or more. And, if the case goes to trial, a specialist may charge you about $7,000 for attending one day. Regular hearings will also cost you another 2-4 hours of the professional’s work.
To Sum Up
The range of divorce cost is huge, due to the uniqueness of every case. Before filing the papers, many specialists recommend talking to your spouse first, to find the common ground. The fewer issues you have when official proceedings begin, the lower the divorce fee will be.
There are two very costly expenses when it comes to divorce: attorney’s fees and trial fees. Solving some of the issues beforehand will help you pay less for an attorneys’ work ($1,000 for an issue as a flat fee, for example). Consequentially, the fewer problems you have unsettled, the less you will spend in court, avoiding trial.