Divorce | Family
How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost on Average?
by Philip Ahn, Attorney
Divorce can be necessary, but it’s also expensive. No matter what your current financial situation is, one thing is clear: getting a divorce will likely cost a substantial amount of money. Fortunately, filing for divorce will be less overwhelming if you have an idea of how much a divorce lawyer will cost before before you begin the process.
On average, divorce lawyers charge between $3,000 and $5,000 to get started on your case, and an additional $175 to $500 per hour on top of that. There are also court fees and other costs associated with divorce that we’ll explain, as well as ways to save money on legal bills.
Every divorce case is different, so your exact costs cannot be calculated in advance. Cheaper divorces do exist, but a typical contested divorce involving alimony and children is a pricey affair. We can set up a free consultation with a local divorce lawyer to discuss your case today.
Hourly Rates vs. Retainer Fees
Some divorce lawyers may be open to lower upfront payments and alternative billing methods. Due to the sensitive nature of divorce, family law attorneys can be more understanding about costs than other areas of law.
Lump Sum Retainer Fees
Most family law lawyers charge their clients an upfront fee called a retainer. This fee essentially acts like a downpayment for legal services, assuring your attorney that they will be paid for the uncertain amount of services that they may need to provide.
For common issues like court days or mediation, a lawyer may charge a fixed fee regardless of the time spent. This fee will usually come out of your retainer.
Retainer fees in divorce cases generally range from $3,000 to $5,000, depending on the complexity of your case and the attorney you choose. Sometimes, this is all that’s needed to complete your divorce. If your attorney has billed you hourly and not used your full retainer fee, the remainder may be given back to you.
Ongoing Hourly Rates
Instead of an upfront retainer, divorce lawyers may charge an hourly rate that is a fraction of the retainer fee. Their hourly fees usually range from $175 to $500 per hour. In law firms with multiple attorneys, several attorneys may work on your case, and the hourly rate can depend on the experience level of the attorney.
Hourly rates are typically charged when you spend a significant amount of time speaking with an attorney. Hourly rates can also be charged when an attorney is reviewing information or preparing material for your case. When lawyers spend time to prepare a document, they should be able to tell you how many hours it will take.
In some cases, attorneys subtract the costs of the time that they work on your case from the retainer and charge additional fees after that fund has been depleted. In other cases, attorneys require the upfront fee in addition to their hourly rate.
Other Fees and Costs Associated With Divorce
The average overall price of a divorce in the United States is about $15,000. In most cases, legal fees capture the lion’s share of bills associated with divorce. However, other costs like court fees, independent evaluators, and mediation services will quickly add up.
Filing fees for divorce vary depending on the state in which you live. Fees can range from $70 to $350 and above. You can learn what your exact fee is by checking your state’s website or contacting the clerk’s office. The clerk’s office can also provide you with more specific information such as the documents you need to begin a divorce.
Divorce costs are greatly affected when the judge orders a child custody evaluation or one is requested by either spouse. Child custody evaluations are more likely in cases where couples are unable to agree on the terms of their parenting plan by themselves, in mediation, or some other form of non-adversarial negotiation.
Evaluations are conducted by trained mental health professionals (typically a psychologist) who interviews the parents, spends time with the children, conducts observations of the family interactions. Court-appointed evaluators generally cost between $1,000 and $2,500. On occasion, private child custody evaluators can cost more than five times that amount.
Mediation is a non-adversarial method of resolving divorce disputes with the hope of not having to go to trial. You and your spouse can voluntarily attend mediation or it can be court-ordered. During mediation sessions, a professionally trained mediator, attorney-mediator, or judge acts as an impartial third party whose primary concern is to help both sides come to a settlement agreement.
Some courts offer fee waivers and discounts to couples that can’t afford the cost of a mediator. The average cost of mediation is about $200 per hour. Attorneys are not required for the mediation process. However, it is typically in your best interest to at least consult your attorney before the mediation sessions begin and then again before any agreement is signed. A legal consultation can increase the overall costs of mediation depending on the type of agreement you have with your lawyer, but it prevents any critical mistakes during this otherwise inexpensive resolution process.
What Are the Benefits of Hiring a Divorce Lawyer?
With the cost of divorce so expensive, it is natural to wonder if the benefits of having a lawyer are worth it. Some of the most common benefits associated with hiring a proven divorce attorney include:
- Protection of and advocacy for your rights
- Having a greater understanding of family law in your state
- Having a faster divorce process
- Mistake-free paperwork
- Smoother negotiation with your spouse and their attorney
- Help to ensure that you are getting all the law entitles you to
- Can help to draft and review child custody agreements, parental agreements, and divorce settlements
- Advocate for fair spousal support, child support, alimony, and other monetary rights
How To Choose the Right Divorce Lawyer
Even an uncontested divorce can get out of control before either spouse meant for it to happen. To protect yourself during the divorce process, it’s important to hire a qualified divorce law attorney. While any lawyer may be helpful, finding one who understands your specific needs can make a world of difference.
- Keep Your Options Open: You may feel pressure to choose an attorney right away, but each lawyer will have a different perspective than the other. Interview at least two to three potential family law lawyers before making your final choice.
- Consider Experience: Be sure to ask your attorney about their fee structure, courtroom experience, if they have worked on similar divorce cases in the past, and the outcomes of those cases.
- Conduct Your Research: Pay attention to their reviews, check online for complaints, and ask others how their experience was with your potential divorce lawyer.
- Price Isn’t Everything: Though divorce costs can be substantial, you should make your final decision on an attorney based on many factors, not just price.
What if I Can’t Afford a Lawyer?
Not everyone can afford the cost of a divorce lawyer. If you do not believe that you can afford the costs of legal representation, there may be options for you. In some cases, you may have your legal fees paid by your spouse. Additionally, some states have programs and non-profit organizations that offer free or steeply discounted legal aid programs.
If you are unsure of your ability to pay for a family law attorney, it may be in your best interest to schedule a free consultation and discuss potential alternative payment methods with an attorney before you make decisions about beginning a divorce process on your own.
Who Pays Attorney Fees in a Divorce?
For the most part, each spouse pays their legal fees. However, there are potential exceptions to this. Your spouse may be required to pay for your attorneys under certain conditions such as:
- They control the household money
- You are a stay-at-home parent
- They have significantly more money than you
- It is stipulated in a prenuptial agreement
If you are in a situation where you cannot afford an attorney, but your spouse can, it is best to discuss the implications of this with a divorce lawyer during your initial free consultation. They may negotiate a deal with you, present options for alternative methods of payment, or recommend pursuing payment from your spouse.
How Much Does an Uncontested Divorce Cost?
On average, uncontested divorces are far less costly than contested divorces. Couples that can agree on the parameters of child custody, spousal support, child support, alimony, and their property division won’t have to spend thousands of dollars in mediation, or court, and utilizing the services of a divorce lawyer.
Nonetheless, the overall costs can still be expensive. Some attorneys charge as much as $5,000 to handle an uncontested divorce case. Rates this high can be expected in states and cities with a higher cost of living. In other areas of the country, the cost of hiring a lawyer for an uncontested divorce can be closer to $2,500.
How Long Does the Average Divorce Take?
It can take months or in some cases more than a year for a divorce case to conclude. Factors that tend to influence the amount of time it takes for your divorce case to be final involve spousal support (alimony), child custody issues, splitting property, and any other disputes that cannot be resolved before going to court. As you can imagine, the longer your divorce takes, the more expensive it is likely to be.
Tips to Save Money on Legal Fees
Divorce cases are notoriously expensive, giving you incentive to in that you take advantage of ways to save money. Effective methods of saving money on the costs of a divorce lawyer include:
- Getting Along With Your Spouse: You do not have to be best friends. However, it is in your best interest to at least develop a working relationship with your spouse. This can lead to fewer disputes, avoiding a divorce trial, and less work that your attorney has to do.
- Taking Mediation Seriously: If you have to opportunity for legal mediation, you should take your time in mediation seriously. It may save the time, money, and uncertainty of a trial.
- Handling Some Things on Your Own: You don’t have to rely on divorce attorneys to handle everything. If you are comfortable taking care of some parts of your case and hiring an unbundled attorney to take care of the rest, you could save thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Free Consultation With an Unbundled Lawyer Today
High costs shouldn’t put you off of a divorce, which can ultimately lead to significant improvements in your life.
With Unbundled Legal Help, you can hire a divorce lawyer to help you with specific parts of your case while you handle the rest. Not every case is a good fit for Unbundled, but our network of Unbundled attorneys also offers full representation at affordable rates. Rates for an Unbundled attorney start as low as $500 – $1500, and you can book a free same-day consultation.