The decision to divorce necessarily takes into consideration many factors; one of which is the economic. The cost of a divorce may be impacted by circumstances such as whether custody of the parties child(ren) will be challenged by one or both of the parties, disagreement over child support and distribution of the marital estate and assets. These are several examples of the complexities that can add significant cost to a divorce. Importantly, the manner in which the parties choose to handle their divorce is one driving force behind what the financial outlay and cost. For example, choosing to mediate or agreeing to an uncontested divorce, will undoubtedly be less costly than a divorce where there is disagreement among the parties.
In cases where there are minimal assets to be distributed and relative agreement concerning custody and parenting access, the parties will generally negotiate and enter into a written agreement known as a Stipulation of Settlement. Such an uncontested divorce is generally more reasonable and will cost approximately $2,500.00-$5,000.00. It will often be accomplished through meetings with the parties and their respective attorneys present.
Alternatively, a couple may choose to divorce using a neutral mediator. After consulting with both parties, a mediator will prepare an agreement. The parties will then review the agreement with attorneys of their individual choosing. Thereafter, a mediator will assist in filing with the Court the documents necessary for an uncontested divorce. The average retainer for mediation services ranges between $2,500 to $7,500, depending upon the scope and complexity of the issues.
The most expensive divorce is a contested divorce. In a contested divorce situation, there are various complex issues that the parties are unable to agree to. They must either be negotiated out-of-court or litigated in the Courts. Often times it will become necessary to file motions for temporary relief or on an emergency basis. These written applications to the Court may be related to custody, temporary support and/or payments for expenses associated with the marital residence, as well as additional matters. Motions filed with the Court can also lead to high costs.
Disagreement over issues such as custody, child support, marital debt and the dividing of marital assets are some of the disagreements that result in a divorce becoming contested. Parties embroiled in a contested divorce will pay a higher retainer (usually beginning at $5,000.00) additional legal fees and may also incur expert fees associated with professional valuations of the marital assets and business interests. Such additional fees may become necessary in formulating terms of settlement or in preparation for trial. On average, the cost of litigation in a divorce case, prior to trial, will be anywhere from $7,500 or more. Further, expert fees related to forensic examinations for custody or the evaluation of businesses can range from $3,500 to $35,000. If a pre-trial agreement can not be reached, legal costs of a trial can range anywhere from $15,000 to $75,000.
In sum, the longer the parties to a divorce disagree and the more complex issues there are to be litigated, the more costly the divorce will be. The least costly divorce occurs when a couple decides to end their marriage amicably and work effectively to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.