The Cost of Divorce: What You’ll Pay Before, During, and After

Use these averages to estimate the cost of divorce, including court costs, attorney fees, property division, and more.
By:
Chelsea Williams
November 25, 2021
M

any people expect to spend a lot of money on a wedding, but aren't aware of the similarly high cost of divorce. When your marriage has gone south, the last thing you need is the additional stress of unexpected financial strain.

If you've decided divorce is on the horizon for you, it's important to research how much you're likely to spend, from the first filing to the final decree. 

The average cost of a divorce varies widely by state and the details of each divorce case. Total expenses can range from $1,000 for an uncontested divorce in Utah to as much as $37,000 for a contested divorce involving attorneys in New York, with the average being somewhere in the middle.

In this article, we'll review the financial commitments you're likely to encounter before, during, and after the divorce process:

  • Fees you can anticipate before you file a petition to dissolve your marriage
  • Costs that can accumulate while your divorce is not yet final
  • Post-divorce payments and miscellaneous costs you could be responsible for

Divorce Expenses You Can Plan For

Cost of divorce: lawyer explaining a document to a woman

Ideally, you'll be able to plan for some of the cost of divorce before you even break the news to your spouse — or at least prior to when one of you officially files with the court. 

If you have a little time before you'll be ready to move forward with the legal steps, try to save money for these basics to avoid being overwhelmed later by what you could owe.

Court Costs

You may be able to minimize some costs, but certain ones — such as court fees — are unavoidable. 

There will be a filing fee to get your case started. The spouse who initiates the petition will generally pay this unless you've agreed to split it. Divorce filing fees range from $100-$500, depending on your state and whether you have minor children in common. 

When children are part of the picture, you'll need to file additional paperwork about how you plan to proceed with a custody schedule and co-parent effectively, which could require extra time and money if you choose to seek help from an attorney. 

Many court jurisdictions will also require that you attend court-sponsored mediation (about $60-$120 per spouse in Florida, for example) or go before a magistrate or judge when child support and custody are factors in the case. 

The total cost of court-mandated hearings is likely to be higher for parents than non-parents.

Pro tip for minimizing court costs: If your divorce is uncontested and you’ll be trying to avoid the expense of a lawyer, look into the option to print out the necessary legal forms at home so you don’t have to purchase a packet from the court. You may also be able to self-file certain documents free of charge via an online portal.

Attorney Fees

If you and your spouse mutually agree on most terms of the split and don't have a lot of assets or debts to divide, you could be eligible to pay a flat fee for a simple divorce, which largely consists of paperwork. 

For a more complicated divorce involving children and other possibly contentious matters, many lawyers charge a retainer fee up front and an hourly rate for divorce filings and court appearances — typically between $225-$310.

Pro tip for minimizing attorney fees: Before deciding to hire an attorney and commit to these costs, it's a good idea to look into several law firms in your area. Many divorce lawyers offer free consultations and can give you an estimate of what you'd spend for your particular case. You may discover a wide range of quotes based on each lawyer's experience or expertise.

Property Division

Dividing assets fairly is a major aim of courts and divorce attorneys. 

If you anticipate disagreeing with your spouse about which of you will keep your home, cars, furniture, electronics, or other big assets, it could cost a significant chunk of change to negotiate each element of property division in court. 

Pro tip for minimizing the cost of mutual liabilities: To ease the financial burden in this area, you could consider consolidating or refinancing debt before you go through with the divorce. Reach out to credit card companies or loan providers for any debt that's yours alone, or consider refinancing a joint mortgage or auto loan if your soon-to-be ex-partner is also on board with taking steps to reduce the cost of divorce for both of you.

Costs That May Crop Up During a Divorce

Cost of divorce: judge in his office with a gavel and hammer

Because even an uncontested divorce can take six weeks to 12 months, a lot can change while you're waiting for various stages of the process to take place.

Here are a few of the additional expenses that could pop up while divorce proceedings are in progress.

In a contested divorce:

  • Either lawyer may want to set up a deposition, which you may have to pay your attorney and a court reporter to attend.
  • Child custody disagreements could result in needing to pay an additional $2,000-$6,000 for a custody evaluator to determine the fairest parenting plan in your case.
  • You could be stuck covering mutual debt payments if your spouse refuses to take care of them while you're still negotiating.

In an uncontested divorce:

  • If you're the spouse with the highest income, you may be given the opportunity to pay the other party for mutual obligations or assets to satisfy the terms of a settlement agreement.
  • Until you have an official parenting plan and can settle up, you may have to cover more than your fair portion of shared expenses for your child.
  • Since you may not yet have an agreement about who claims your child for each tax year, you could have to forfeit a tax credit while your divorce is pending and file an amended return to claim the money later.

Even in a collaborative divorce, unanticipated expenses can pile up. For example, you could change your mind about your divorce lawyer and have to pay to retain a new one or be served a supplemental petition that requires an immediate response.

Lingering Elements of the Cost of Divorce

Father using his mobile phone while with his baby

Financial responsibilities don't necessarily end when your divorce decree is issued. 

Depending on how your income compares to your ex-spouse's, you may be the parent required to pay child support. While it's not usually possible to calculate the exact amount of this responsibility until after an amount has been court ordered, you can try to adjust your lifestyle to compensate for any new expenses. 

You may have to pay alimony to support your former spouse for years to come. Sometimes, it's an option to settle on a one-time payment at the time of divorce if this is within your means.

There could also be unpredictable events that take place after your divorce has been finalized that will affect your bottom line, like a waiting period for selling any mutually owned real estate.

The true costs of divorce may stretch well into your future, so it's best to understand early on how family law works in your state and which of these factors will apply to your case.

Having a plan for communicating with your co-parent about shared child expenses — via the Onward App — could help mitigate the impact of your other post-divorce obligations.

Use Average Costs as a Rough Estimate

Be sure to seek legal advice before applying any of the above estimated expenses to your personal situation. Divorce finances will look different for every couple, so the ultimate cost of your divorce will be unique.

No matter the nature or time frame of your divorce, it could feel like you're on an expensive roller coaster. Taking steps to save yourself money in other areas of your life can minimize any financial hardship you have to endure as a result of getting divorced.


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Chelsea Williams

Chelsea is a twice-divorced mom of two boys. She is happily single parenting and doing her best to balance two simultaneous co-parenting relationships. Despite the complications, Chelsea can see the beauty in her story and believes healing is possible for the whole family.