It’s hard to estimate what it will cost you to divorce. There are many factors at issue, from where you live to how much you own to whether you have children. Of course, the most significant variable is probably how agreeable or contentious you and your ex-partner are.
The filing fee for divorce in California is $435. From there—and depending on how contentious your spouse—sky’s the limit. According to Forbes, a traditional divorce might cost up to $100,000; a collaborative divorce—where both partners’ lawyers work toward a settlement—might cost between $15,000 and $50,000; and divorce mediation—where the couple works with a neutral third-party—may cost between $5,000 and $15,000.
The key takeaway from the costs above is that the more contentious the divorce, the more expensive it will be. A divorce that goes to trial is likely to cost more than one that doesn’t. Likewise a divorce where each partner hires their own lawyers is likely to cost more than one without individual lawyers.
While these numbers are merely averages and ballpark sums, it’s clear that divorce can be costly—and often at the worst possible time. Let’s look at ways to keep your costs down, while still reaching the resolution you desire.
Trials & Judges
If your case goes to trial, there will be court filing fees, as well as expenses incurred by your lawyers. Each side’s legal team will present its case, and the presiding judge will make a decision. Divorce court judges are not mediators. They’re not therapists. And they’re not counselors. They are there solely to resolve a civil dispute based on facts and figures.
Consequently, one or both ex-spouses often disagree with a judge’s ruling, and you or your ex may appeal the decision to the appellate court. If so, there will be more lawyers fees and court costs. Likewise, if your ex is unhappy with the verdict, he or she may refuse to abide by the judgment. If so—as it’s a civil case—you must initiate contempt proceedings to get them to comply; and that means new lawyers fees and court costs.
Typically, attorneys work on hourly rates and bill for all of their time working for a client—from prepping documents to traveling to court. A lawyer may ask you for a retainer up front, but don’t be mistaken that the amount is any sort of estimate for settling the divorce. It is merely upfront money so the lawyer knows that they will get paid. Once that retainer is exhausted, you will be billed for any additional hours (or asked to put up a new retainer).
If you and your ex each hire your own attorney, the divorce is essentially costing double. Divorce is a naturally contentious situation, so it’s understandable that each of you would want your own advocates; it’s just a very expensive way for you to get to a resolution that you both can live with. Pitting lawyers against each other rarely yields rapid results; legal maneuvering and filing motions with the court might drag cases out for months or years—all while running a tab.
As Forbes notes, a neutral third-party is likely the least costly way to divorce with professional help. Divorce mediators work with each spouse to get to a resolution that both partners can live with. It’s an important distinction from attorneys and judges. Lawyers fight to get the best judgment for their individual client; and judges issue verdicts based only on the facts presented to them.
Some divorce mediators bill by the hour, like attorneys. Others offer package deals that include divorce mediation and all of the necessary court filings. At South Bay Mediation, we offer both options, as well as a flat-rate alternative with unlimited mediation hours. Deciding which mediation to pursue might be a function of how agreeable you and your ex-partner are. If the path forward is contentious—due to finances, custody, or some other disagreement—a third-party mediator may need more time to find common ground, and a flat rate for unlimited mediation may be the best option. The goal is always to find a happy medium and avoid the expensive and uncertain process of going to trial.
The cost of divorce can be difficult to estimate. However, if you and your ex-partner are willing to compromise to move past your differences, then third-party mediation is likely the least expensive path. Many couples need individual divorce attorneys and judges to resolve their contentious dissolutions, but it almost certainly costs more in the long run. There is a heavy financial cost—and a heavy emotional cost.
To discuss mediating a civil and mutually agreeable divorce, please contact us at South Bay Mediation. Our goal isn’t simply to reach a resolution. Our goal is to reach an amicable resolution, so that the financial and emotional costs are minimized and everyone can move forward feeling understood and respected.
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