Cost of Divorce: What You Can Expect to Pay

The cost of divorce increases with the number of issues and problems that come up. In divorce, children and property are generally the most contested issues. If you are contemplating a divorce, and you do not have children, property, or assets, your state or county may have options available to reduce expenses associated with getting a divorce.

Here is a breakdown of the basic costs.

Filing Fees: The Divorce Petition

The first expense is always filing fees. This is money paid directly to the Clerk of the Court to begin the divorce proceedings. Court filing fees vary based on the jurisdiction, but typically are under $250. A couple states have filing fees over $300, such as California.

If you can show financial hardship, you may be able to obtain a fee waiver from the court. Typically, you must fill out a financial questionnaire or affidavit. You may also be required to provide some sort of documentation to verify your hardship such as pay stubs, evidence of public assistance, or tax returns.

Many jurisdictions will provide the form for you to fill out. Do not fudge on this form. Some jurisdictions will consider the form a governmental record and if you falsify information, will proceed with charging you with the criminal offense of “tampering with a governmental record”.

The Cost of Notifying Your Spouse

Your second major expense is getting notice to your spouse. This is also called having the other party served. The dissolution process really doesn't begin until your spouse receives notice and has an opportunity to respond.

Some attorneys use private process servers or a sheriff’s department to have the other party served. Costs for service can range from $40.00 to $100.00 depending on the rates in your area.

Another option, however, is to request your spouse to sign a waiver. There are two different kinds of waivers. The first is waiver of service. In this waiver, your spouse would acknowledge that they know about the lawsuit and are waiving the requirement that they receive more formal notice. In the second type, your spouse not only waives service but also future notice of any other hearings. The first type will save you money, but the second type will also save you more time in the long run. Before you go to the expense of a process server, see if your spouse will sign a waiver.

Costs of Additional Details

The next sets of expenses are associated with finalizing the details. If you want a jury trial to resolve any issues, most jurisdictions will require you to pay a jury fee in advance. If you have no contested issues, see what alternative dispute resolution procedures are available in your county or jurisdiction. Many family courts provide assistance through a family court facilitator whose job is to provide assistance in selecting the appropriate forms and guidance in completing the forms required throughout the process.

In a no child/no property case, the only real issues are generally terminating the marital status, and perhaps restoring the wife’s maiden name. Because these are simple non-contested matters that do not require legal expertise, the assistance of the family court facilitator is all that is often necessary.

Preparing the Marital Settlement Agreement 

The critical expense with any divorce is putting the details to writing. If your jurisdiction does not offer a set of forms or a family court facilitator, you will have to prepare a marital settlement agreement which will become the final decree of divorce signed by the judge. It is important to note that if you leave something out of your petition (the very first document you file), you can usually fix it with an amendment.

Final decrees are different and much more complex to fix when you discover mistakes or omissions. Spend the extra effort and funds to make sure the final decree reflects your agreement with your former spouse. List who gets which car and who is responsible for each debt.

If you leave out a name change provision, you will neeed to petition the court later to have it changed in another expensive proceeding. If you are concerned about appearing in court with no legal advice or assistance, you may be able to hire a typing service/paralegal service to prepare the paperwork.

Paralegal Services

As long as there are no children, spousal support, or property/debts to be divided, many typing/paralegal services can prepare the summons and petition, necessary disclosures, and a marital settlement agreement and or a stipulated judgment. Such a service should not cost more than $200-300.

Keep in mind, however, paralegals are not legally qualified or allowed to give legal advice. You may want to spend the extra money and find a service that actually has attorneys that supervise or own the document preparation service.

Limited Scope Representation

You may also find an attorney who will provide “a la carte” legal services known as unbundling or limited scope representation. This may allow you to pay a limited amount for only the services you need. For example, you might pay the attorney to appear for you in court hearings, but prepare your own paperwork. Some people prefer to have their documents prepared by a lawyer, but are willing to appear in court on their own behalf. Either of these options saves money for the client.

Such services are becoming more common as consumers look for ways to contain the cost of divorce. Even if you cannot afford an attorney to represent you, this service is worth the extra money because it will also provide you piece of mind that your final decree of divorce sets out exactly what you and your spouse agreed to, and protects you both from unwanted surprises later.