If you’re trying to anticipate the average cost of divorce in California, you’ll quickly realize there’s no typical amount. It all depends on how much legal representation you need, whether you have children, the complexity of your assets, and how many issues you need to resolve.
To help you develop a realistic budget for your situation, I’ll begin with some ballpark numbers on the cost of divorce in California. Then, let’s talk about all the variables, so you can see which ones apply to you, and most importantly, make decisions that put yourself and your family in the best position to thrive after divorce.
Average Cost of Divorce in California
According to a survey by Nolo.com, a leading legal information website, the average cost of divorce in California is $17,500.
But this single figure doesn’t tell the whole story:
- Attorney fees make up a large portion of the cost – $13,800.
- The total costs can range from $5,500 to $38,000.
- The average cost is $17,100 for couples without children.
- The average cost is $26,300 for couples with children.
- The cost of divorce in California is 37% higher than the national average (due to a higher cost of living)
If you’re feeling concerned about these numbers, let’s talk about a decision that will probably have the biggest impact on your total spending – whether or not to litigate.
The average cost of divorce in California is $17,500. But this single figure doesn’t tell the whole story.
Contested versus Uncontested Divorce
The cost of divorce in California is significantly less when you don’t go to court. As you can see from above, attorney fees make up a large portion of the total expenses. In California, the average hourly fee charged by divorce lawyers is $330 per hour, ranging from $150 to $500+.
When you increase the need for an attorney’s time and expertise — drafting and filing motions, facilitating discovery, managing depositions, negotiating with opposing counsel — your costs will quickly add up. Also, keep in mind that many of these expenses are doubled since each spouse has their own attorney. This doesn’t include court fees and the hiring of other related professionals, such as expert witnesses or psychologists.
As you can see, the cost of uncontested divorce in California can be drastically less. But if you and your spouse are at odds on a number of issues, what other choice do you have?
Mediation or Collaborative Divorce
Fortunately, there’s an alternative to the traditional divorce process. Mediation and collaborative divorce encourage you and your spouse to reach a mutually beneficial agreement through one or more facilitated sessions. It’s efficient, from a time and cost perspective, because it leads to less fighting and more problem-solving.
- Mediation involves a single, neutral facilitator who helps you negotiate the terms of your divorce. Although a mediator will not provide specific recommendations, they’ll make sure you’re fully aware of your legal rights and bring in experts as needed (such as accountants or appraisers) to help you make informed decisions. In most cases, divorce mediation costs between $4,000 – $8,000. Just be sure to ask if the process includes drafting agreements and filing paperwork like our Peaceful Divorce Solution.
- Collaborative divorce is a hybrid approach between the traditional litigation model and divorce mediation. In this scenario, each spouse would have their own attorney. In addition, depending on your needs, there would be a neutral financial specialist, a child specialist, and a divorce coach to facilitate the sessions. This increases the cost, but it’s usually less expensive than going to court and has better outcomes for all.
Another way to reduce your cost of divorce in California is to strategically engage an attorney, especially if you’re mostly in agreement. For example, you could hire an attorney and/or mediator to manage certain issues like child custody. Or, you could have an attorney prepare legal documents like a Marital Settlement or Parenting Agreement, so you’re confident everything is legally binding.
Mediation and collaborative divorce are more efficient, from a time and cost perspective, because they lead to less fighting and more problem-solving.
What Issues Could Increase Divorce Costs?
Aside from how you choose to divorce, the other factor that drives up cost is how many matters you need to resolve – and how far apart you are from the agreement. Here’s a list of common issues and the time and/or expenses associated with each one.
Naturally, decisions about your children require careful time and consideration. You’ll need to develop a parenting agreement, also called a “custody and visitation agreement.” This outlines your time-share (schedule for when the children will be with each parent) and decision-making (how parents will make decisions about their children’s health, education, and welfare).
Regardless of whether you engage a mediator or an attorney, these important decisions will require more time, which adds to the total cost of the divorce. You should also think about any transportation expenses if there’s a temporary living arrangement. And in some cases, if the separation is causing emotional distress for your child(ren), you may need to budget for therapy.
Spousal support (often called alimony) is a monthly amount that one spouse pays the other. It’s meant to assist one spouse financially during or after the separation or divorce. There are three ways this could increase the cost of the divorce:
- If you or your spouse disputes the need for spousal support, this will add time to the negotiation process. And if you go to court, it may require a discovery process to confirm financial information.
- If you decide to live in separate homes during the divorce, you’ll need to allow for two households, and in some cases, provide spousal support before the divorce is final.
- If one spouse hasn’t been working, they may need education or career coaching before they can get a full-time job to support themselves.
You may also want to consider budgeting for counseling to help you and/or your spouse navigate this difficult time. Or, perhaps a divorce coach, who can provide positive guidance toward your new life.
You may need to decide how you’ll divide your shared property. If this is a point of contention, the time spent in negotiation can increase your total divorce costs. Even if you’re already in agreement, selling your home adds costs like property appraisals and improvements, real estate closing costs, fees or taxes, and moving expenses.
If you own a business, together or separately, this adds another level of complexity to the divorce. You’ll need to hire a business valuator and accountant to assess the worth of your business and potential profit. And, if there are disagreements about whether to sell the business or how to manage it post-divorce, these issues take time to unravel.
Assets & Debts
You may want to bring in an expert financial planner if you’re not on the same page about how to handle investments, retirement funds, pensions, inheritance, and other assets. There may also be debts to consider – student loans, personal loans, or car payments. A financial planner can advise on how to make the most of the money you have – and stretch it into two new households. This prevents extended negotiations since both parties will feel more confident.
All the issues above will have an impact on your tax obligations. It’s smart to hire a qualified tax professional, so you can make informed decisions that will minimize your tax burden. It’s well worth the investment. Like the financial planner, introducing an expert into the process can help you quickly reach an agreement.
In truth, there really is no average cost of divorce in California. But hopefully, this gives you a better idea of what to expect. The cost all comes down to a willingness to compromise and how many issues you’re bringing to the table. And that’s within your control. If you’d like to learn more about our peaceful divorce solution, please contact me for a consultation.