How much does a divorce cost on average?

While most people marry in hopes of staying with the same person for their lifetime, it doesn’t always end up that way. In the U.S., almost half of adults aged 55 to 64 have been divorced at least once. For adults 20 years of age and older, the number is 30%.

But getting divorced isn’t cheap, whether it’s the legal process or the aftereffects. In the past year, divorced women were twice as likely as divorced men to be in poverty. Before you start the paperwork, exploring how much a divorce costs might help you prepare.

Key takeaways

  • The cost of divorce varies based on location, complexity and legal needs.
  • Some divorce proceedings can cost $20,000 or more, not including things like child support or alimony.
  • Collaborative or mediated divorces that avoid court and lawyers during parts of the process might save money.

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What is the average cost of divorce?

The cost of divorce can range from $100 to $20,000 or more, according to a survey by legal help site Nolo. The filing fee alone is at least $100, but using a divorce lawyer and going to trial can balloon costs well into five figures.

Average costs vary because assets, custody and joint accounts can impact the total price for a divorce. Keep in mind that these costs are just to settle the divorce and do not include payments made for child support or for alimony, also called spousal support, among other decisions.

What affects the cost of divorce?

No two divorces are alike, and there are a lot of different factors that go into the cost of divorce. The cost of a divorce can change based on where a couple lives, if lawyers are involved and if child support, custody, alimony and property division are considered. 

Divorce lawyers

Hiring a divorce lawyer is one way to complete a divorce. It’s also one of the most costly parts of a divorce. Nolo’s survey revealed that the median fee for a divorce lawyer is around $7,000. The average is more than $11,000.

Agreements and disputes 

The property, assets and dependents you share with your spouse can have a significant impact on the length of mediation you go through and on settling disputes. For those who hired divorce lawyers and settled disputes, Nolo says they paid an average of $10,600. Uncontested divorces averaged $4,100. A trial can also cause that total amount to go up. Those who went to trial with their lawyers paid around $20,400. And that figure only goes up the more disputes you have.

Complicated financial situations

When couples get married, they might decide to merge accounts and assets. For instance, both partners’ names might be on the home deed. And they might have joint banking and investment accounts. 

It’s not easy to decide who gets what when it comes to these accounts. Complicated financial situations can increase the cost of divorce since there are bigger issues to settle.

Tax experts 

Tax returns can completely change during divorce proceedings and after the divorce is finalized. A person’s marital status on December 31 determines their tax filing status for that year. So if someone is still legally married, they might have the option to file separately or with a joint return. 

Who claims the children as dependents might also change, and when property shifts from one partner to another, those assets could impact taxes.

Custody evaluations and spousal support

When former partners disagree on how child custody and planning will be handled, it may take significant time and money to work out a plan.

The same goes when one party is the primary earner in a household. Spousal support, also known as alimony, paid from one partner to another can be another contentious issue. Without an agreement, the amount and for how long alimony must be paid may be determined by a court order.

Two people sitting on a sofa having a serious discussion.

Collaborative divorce is when both spouses work out their divorce agreement together.

Do-it-yourself divorce costs

Hiring a divorce lawyer isn’t required to complete a divorce, although a lawyer might be necessary depending on a person’s situation and circumstances. Using a mediator or going through an online, do-it-yourself service might reduce your costs. 

Without a lawyer, costs reported by Nolo averaged less than $1,000. In cut-and-dried cases that only need a filing fee for the state, costs might be anywhere from $100 to $400.

Tips to lower the cost of divorce

There are ways to reduce costs when it comes to divorces. 

Avoid full-scope attorneys

Avoiding using an attorney at every step could save tens of thousands of dollars. But it’s not always that simple, especially when you consider there are two parties involved. And being able to avoid a lawyer depends on assets, dependents, location and more.

Have a collaborative divorce

Collaborative divorce is when both spouses work out their divorce agreement together. Lawyers may still be involved, but the process may go faster by avoiding major disputes around child custody, division of property and other separations. Even if lawyers aren’t involved, a collaborative divorce may still require the help of a finance specialist or other experts.

Use divorce mediation

A divorce mediator may be able to help work out issues as a third-party consultant. To the mediator, no one person is right or wrong. Instead, the mediator helps both parties find the right solutions based on everyone’s needs and concerns.

Mediation can help resolve disputes faster and aid communication, shortening the divorce process and lowering total costs. Mediators may be less expensive than lawyers, but there could still be costs. Based on Nolo data, couples might expect to pay $3,000 to $8,000 total.

Divorce cost in a nutshell

Since divorces vary based on so many different factors, what you pay might be completely different from what your neighbor could pay. Understanding what to expect might help you avoid unexpected expenses and better manage money during a divorce.

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