How Much Does A Divorce Cost? Estimates + Expenses for 2024 Staff Profile Picture
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According to the legal website Nolo, the average total cost of legal fees in 2019 was $11,300.¹ In this guide, we dive into the factors that can make a divorce cost more or less.

Divorce is a challenge — both emotionally and financially. 

From spousal support to child custody and asset division to legal fees, the cost of a divorce can vary greatly depending on your unique marital situation and whether or not you and your spouse can come to an agreement on key issues. 

To understand why divorces cost so much, it helps to know about the factors that can skew the total cost. We created this guide to help you better understand the short-term and long-term costs associated with a divorce.

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How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

It’s difficult to pinpoint an estimated total divorce cost because each divorce is unique. Some individuals choose to hire a lawyer and other cases require a trial to sort out issues between spouses—all of which increases the total cost. 

According to the Martindale-Nolo Research's 2019 divorce survey, the average total cost of a full-scope divorce lawyer is $11,300.¹ Aside from legal costs, there are administrative fees, court fees, and mediation costs that can add up to an average of $1,580 per spouse.¹ 

However, how much your own divorce could cost boils down to a few things:

  • Whether you and your spouse disagree on key issues (known as a contested divorce)

  • Whether you hire an attorney

  • Whether your case goes to trial 

Any of the above factors can greatly increase the price tag of your divorce. If you and your spouse have an uncontested divorce, meaning you both agree on all elements, this can save you from requiring an attorney or going to trial.

Factors That Make a Divorce More Expensive

Legal fees are just one of the factors that increase the cost of a divorce. You should also consider the property and assets you’ll be splitting up, and whether or not child support and alimony will be paid — both of which can significantly drive up the long-term cost. 

Hiring a Lawyer 

Divorce attorney fees are one of the most expensive elements of a divorce. The longer that your divorce lasts, the more you’ll end up spending in divorce attorney fees. 

The average hourly divorce attorney fee in 2019 was $270.¹ However, the figure varied across the U.S. depending on region, city population, and the attorney’s experience. Hourly attorney fees tend to be higher in coastal cities and lower in rural areas.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce means that you and your spouse agree on all divorce terms. A contested divorce, on the other hand, means that you and your spouse disagree on key points of the divorce (such as child custody, alimony, or property division). 

Contested divorces often lead to a trial, which can significantly drive up the total cost of a divorce. If your divorce goes to trial, expect to pay between $20,400 to $23,300, depending on the number of contested issues you and your spouse have.¹

Kids and Complex Finances

Contested divorces often hinge on factors such as child custody, child support, alimony, and property division. The more complex the issues are, the more likely it is that you’ll need to hire an attorney to help you navigate these tricky legal waters.

How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost?

The median total for divorce attorney fees in 2019 was $7,000 and the average was $11,300.¹ However, the cost of a divorce attorney will depend on a few things:

  • The experience of a prospective attorney (more seasoned attorneys generally charge more for their services)

  • Your geographic location

  • The complexity of your case

In addition to whatever fee structure your lawyer charges, you may also pay a fee for an initial consultation, where you and a lawyer can discuss the details of the case to get a better sense of potential contested issues and whether or not the case is likely to go to trial. 

Before you hire a divorce attorney, determine what fee structure and legal representation type is right for you. 

Hourly Rates

Hourly rates are the most common type of attorney fee arrangement. The lawyer charges by a per-hour rate and tracks their time in fractions of an hour, often six-minute increments. 

Divorce attorneys typically charge a higher hourly rate if your case goes to trial. Hourly fees are also influenced by geographic location, the size of the law firm, and the lawyer’s experience level. 

Your lawyer might also tap junior associates, legal assistants, or paralegals to help with your case. However, these hours are usually billed at a lower rate.

Hourly Rates for Divorce Attorneys

Flat Fees or Alternative Fee Arrangements

Alternative fee arrangements (also known as value-based billing) are a fee structure where the attorney is paid for the value of the services delivered rather than the amount of time it takes to deliver that service. 

A flat fee arrangement is a popular example of an alternative fee arrangement. Flat fee is a payment structure where individuals pay a single fixed fee for their case. This type of fee structure is more common for attorneys that handle a large volume of a particular sort of case, such as uncontested divorces. 

Types of Legal Representation

In addition to the fee structure, you’ll also have to choose between different types of legal representation when choosing a divorce lawyer.

Full-Scope Attorneys 

A full-scope attorney will help you with every legal detail of your divorce. They will handle paperwork, communicate with your spouse’s lawyer, and represent you in all meetings and court appearances. 

Best for: Those looking for a simple process with minimal effort on their part 

Consulting Attorneys 

Consulting attorneys advise you on legal matters if you choose to represent yourself in a divorce or seek mediation rather than resolving disputes in a courtroom. While they are not considered your attorney of record and can’t represent you in your divorce proceedings, they can help you fill out legal paperwork, strategize your settlement, and give you legal advice along the way. 

One big upside to a consulting attorney is that you pay for what you need, rather than for every hour of time spent on your case as you would for a full-scope attorney. Consulting attorneys will only bill you for the time spent on the tasks you direct them to work on, which can help reduce the amount of money you pay over the course of your divorce. 

Best for: Cases that do not require a trial, as these lawyers cannot represent you in court

Limited-Scope Attorneys 

Limited-scope attorneys handle the specific legal work related to your case, while you handle everything that does not require a lawyer’s expertise. 

Similar to consulting attorneys, this is more of an “a la carte” approach to divorce legal representation: You decide where you need legal help and pay for only those services. Unlike consulting attorneys, you can hire a limited-scope attorney to appear in court with you and manage certain elements of the divorce proceeding, such as communication with your spouse’s attorney.

Best for: Those with one or two contested issues, such as custody, who cannot afford a full-service attorney

Types of Legal Representation for DivorceDivorce Cost CTA

Additional Divorce Costs 

Legal fees are just one component of the overall cost of a divorce. Additional divorce costs can be broken down into hard and soft costs. A hard cost is directly related to your divorce, while a soft cost is not. 

Below, we dive into some of the additional hard and soft divorce costs. 

Cost of Filing for Divorce

The first step in a divorce is to file a divorce petition with your state or county. For many states, filing fees can vary county to county. 

Filing fees are required unless you get a waiver based on your income. Contact your state or county court system for more information on income-based requirements. 

Below, we’ve pulled estimated divorce filing fees for each U.S. state. However, we recommend checking directly with your state or county court for an exact amount, as filing fees are subject to change.

Trial Costs

In some cases, contested issues can be resolved through mediation between spouses. If not, the case will need to go to court so that a judge can rule on the contested issues. 

Trial costs significantly increase the cost of a divorce — Nolo found that the average total divorce cost for an uncontested divorce is $4,100, and the average total divorce cost for a case that goes to trial is $20,400.¹ 

The cost jump is largely attributed to a longer divorce timeline, which means you’ll be paying your divorce lawyer for a longer time period than you might if your case was resolved out of court.

Divorce Mediation Costs

If you’re hoping to avoid a trial but have contested issues you and your spouse need to work out, mediation can be a great solution. During mediation, you and your spouse will meet with a trained mediator to resolve the issues of your divorce. 

Divorce mediation can cost between $500 and $8,000.² Mediators often charge by hour, so the longer it takes to resolve your issues, the more it will cost.

Forensic Accountant Costs

Forensic accountants can help couples determine the value of their assets. This can come in handy if you and your spouse have contested issues over things like spousal support, child support, asset division, or hidden assets. 

Not every divorce case will require a forensic accountant, but they can be especially helpful for divorce cases where there are high-value assets or you or your spouse own a business, or if your case is financially complex. 

Most forensic accountants charge $300 to $500 per hour, but they can cost more if you require multiple accountants to work on your case.³

Soft Costs

In addition to the hard costs listed above, there are less obvious soft costs to consider.

  • Switching cell phone plans

  • Changing insurance plans

  • Moving to a new home or apartment

  • Family therapy

  • Replacing items your spouse received in the divorce

How Much Does a Divorce Cost Without a Lawyer?

At the very least, a DIY divorce will involve a divorce filing fee with your state or county, which ranges from $100 to over $400 depending on where you live.¹ 

If you and your spouse agree on all issues regarding the divorce and don’t have any complex issues like child custody or alimony, a DIY divorce could be the best solution. 

DIY divorces involve handling all elements of the divorce on your own, without the help of an attorney. DIY divorces cost considerably less than a lawyer-assisted divorce, since you can forgo expensive hourly legal costs. 

Costs for a DIY Divorce:

  • Filing fees 

  • Courtroom expenses (if divorce requires a trial)

  • Divorce forms

  • Cost of serving divorce papers

As mentioned, DIY divorces are best suited for simple, uncontested divorces. Representing yourself (also called pro se) can be risky if you’re unfamiliar with legal proceedings.

Average Cost of a DIY Divorce

How to Lower the Cost of Divorce

While some of the costs of a divorce are unavoidable (such as the filing fee), there are methods you can try to lower the overall cost of your divorce.

Consider Mediation Services

Before your case goes to trial, you can seek mediation services to help you and your spouse come to an agreement on any contested issues. 

Mediation often helps couples avoid going to trial, as it is a fast and relatively inexpensive way to work out your differences outside of a courtroom. Rather than paying separate lawyers during a trial, spouses commonly split the cost of mediation between themselves. 

Find Out if You Qualify for Pro Bono Representation

Pro bono or reduced-cost legal aid can be a helpful option for those who can’t afford to hire a lawyer for a contested divorce.  

These types of legal aid programs are often based on income and certain factors like domestic abuse. Other programs may be dedicated to a specific demographic, such as single mothers or a particular geographic group. 

How to find pro bono representation near you:

  • Search your local or state bar association website to find lawyers that might be willing to represent you for free. 

  • Contact the organization that handles lawyer licensing in your state to see if they know of firms offering pro bono representation. 

  • Reach out to local law schools, which often have legal clinics where students (supervised by attorneys) take on cases for free.

Divorce Cost FAQ

Below, we tackle some commonly asked questions about divorce costs.

Find a Top Divorce Lawyer Near You

Divorce can be tough on your emotions and your wallet. Knowing more about how divorce costs shake out can help you save where you can and splurge where you need to. 

If you’re ready to talk to a legal professional, we’ve got you covered. Find a reputable divorce attorney through our online divorce attorney directory today. 

About the Author

Scott Levin is a family law attorney mediator in San Diego California known as the Chief PeaceKeeper™. As the leading divorce mediation lawyer in California, Scott leverages an eclectic background in law, business and finance to aid families through his expertise in family and divorce mediation. Passionate and dedicated to aiding clients resolve conflict outside of court, Scott Levin helps clients amicably divorce in California by working to bring about settlement terms, drafting the marital settlement agreements and filing the court forms. Scott also helps with post-judgment modifications as well as prenuptial and postnuptial marital agreements.

Legal Disclaimer: While the content of this article provides general information related to the law, it does not provide legal advice. Please consult an attorney for legal advice.

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Scott Levin is a family law attorney mediator in San Diego California known as the Chief PeaceKeeper™. As the leading divorce mediation lawyer in California, Scott leverages an eclectic background in law, business and finance to aid families through his expertise in family and divorce mediation. Passionate and dedicated to aiding clients resolve conflict outside of court, Scott Levin helps clients amicably divorce in California by working to bring about settlement terms, drafting the marital settlement agreements and filing the court forms. Scott also helps with post-judgment modifications as well as prenuptial and postnuptial marital agreements.