It is a fact of life in America that most people do not have much money. Research from the Federal Reserve Board shows that most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. In fact, 47% of Americans say they would struggle to pay an unexpected expense of $400. 55% fold the Pew Charitable Trusts that they do not have enough savings to replace a month of lost income. The legal costs of divorce can be a huge challenge.
How much does divorce actually cost?
There is no easy answer to how much a divorce can cost. Lawyers typically charge by the hour. Hourly rates can vary widely depending on what region of the country you are in and how experienced your lawyer is. Attorneys typically charge between $200 and $600 per hour, and that is probably a good range to consider.
The number of hours an attorney will need is hard to predict. If you and your spouse are able to agree on how to split your property and support your children, then the lawyer may only need to review your agreement, point out any issues, and then prepare the proper paperwork. Some attorneys will offer flat fees for an uncontested divorce of about $700. If you and your spouse wind up in a contested divorce where each of you is fighting over every penny of your joint property, then the lawyer’s fees could easily go from a few hundred to tens of thousands.
Divorce is cheaper without a lawyer
You may be able to resolve all the divorce issues yourself and in that case, you may not even need a lawyer. Today many states recognize the financial difficulty that comes with divorce and they provide the public with easy forms and expedited procedures that can be used for simple divorces. For example, in California, some couples can be used an expedited process called “summary dissolution.” This is only for couples that have been married for less than five years, have no children, do not own a home, and have less than $41,000 in assets (or $6,000 in debt). This procedure does not even require appearing before a judge. You just fill out the paperwork and that is the end of it. Many other states have similar procedures.
Even if you do not qualify for a simplified or expedited divorce, if you can settle all your disputes with your spouse then a lawyer does not necessarily need to be involved. You can simply input your agreement into a form. For example, the online legal service Legal Zoom advertises a divorce package for $949 per couple, excluding court filing fees, which will typically add on $300 to $500. Many courts also offer free assistance.
Who pays the costs?
The simple answer is that both spouses have to pay the costs. In contested situations, the cost of attorney’s fees is usually part of the settlement negotiation. Remember that the spouses own their assets jointly until the divorce, so they are often using the jointly-owned money to pay. Each side’s lawyer will often be paid out of their client’s share of the assets. In uncontested or collaborative divorces, the couple will usually split the legal costs.