How much does it cost to get divorced in California?
Updated: Mar 12
This week I saw a forum post written by someone asking, “how much it costs to get divorced in California?” Obviously, there are a lot of variables that will affect the cost of a divorce and unfortunately the forum answers posted were pretty unhelpful.
The costs of getting a divorce in California depends on several factors. If you and your spouse agree on how you want to divide everything, including property and custody, you could file on your own for as little as the $435 court fee. If you need a mediator to assist with the process, you might spend $1000 - $2,000. If one or both of you hire an attorney because you cannot agree on certain issues, each lawyer is likely to charge $5,000 to $15,000. Of course, In highly contested situations, or where property or business valuation is a significant issue, costs can skyrocket.
What is the least expensive way to get divorced?
The least expensive way to get a divorce is to technically “do-it-yourself.”. There are a number of resources online, provided both by the court system and by outside agencies, that will point you to the correct forms and procedures. Some relatively straightforward paperwork if you, a few signatures comma and a $435 filing fee could potentially get you most of the way there . This of course assumes that you and your spouse agree on literally everything about the separation. Typically this means that you would need to agree on a child custody agreement, spousal support, property division.
Many couples do represent themselves in divorce court and in fact more than 70% of all divorce litigants do so without lawyers.
Here in San Diego it is likely that you would not even need to have a formal hearing take place in court. An uncontested divorce can often be accomplished with minimal contact with the courts clerk or judge.
How does mediation work?
Mediation is a process that puts the two spouses together with a trained mediator in an attempt to solve any disagreements about custody or property division. The mediators are typically skilled at working with emotionally charged situations and often have success in helping spouses come together on tough topics. Mediation can be accomplished in a few short hours if there are relatively few disagreements, but of course it can go longer with complex problems. Here in San Diego, inexpensive mediators charge as little as $1000 for their basic package of services. More full service firms that expect a significant amount of contentious back and forth between the spouses will charge 2500 to $7500.
After the mediator assists the two spouses in coming to agreements on the contested issues comma the mediator will prepare paperwork describing these agreements. This paperwork, along with other required court forms, are submitted to the relevant family court judge who will review and parentheses almost always end parentheses sign off on the mediators draft proposal. Mediation can be a great way to save money, accomplish things quickly, and show the court that you and your spouse work together well. Mediation doesn't always work however and if one or both spouses are not willing to participate, then divorce attorneys typically get involved. Mediators charge by the hour, so if you and your spouse use some of their time but cannot come to an agreement, you're still going to pay a bill.
What is a flat-fee divorce?
Like the situation above with a mediator, some attorneys offer flat fee divorce preparation services for couples. This often includes drafting of the initial petition paperwork, a consultation, and a proposed final agreement.
Other attorneys offer flat-fee representation, meaning that an attorney will work for you throughout the process for one agreed-upon cost. There are several advantages to working this way obviously. It tends to keep clients focused on what is important in the divorce, rather than having to worry about the impact on their pocketbook. It also forces your legal professional to work smart. If there is an opportunity to file a somewhat-frivolous motion, the flat-fee attorney will likely skip it and find another avenue that doesn’t waste as much time. As you can see, a flat-fee attorney is looking to work capitalize on efficiency.
What are the risks of not hiring your own lawyer?
If you are looking to save money on the cost of your divorce, you probably want to evaluate the risks of moving forward without your own attorney. The biggest and most obvious risk is getting stuck with an unfavorable agreement. We have all seen movies and TV shows where characters complain that they “got screwed in the divorce,” implying that they received far less than their fair community share of assets, or they are set to receive far less monthly support than they feel they should. This is real. Divorce is an extremely stressful and difficult time, and it is not the ideal situation to be educating yourself on the nuance of California’s dissolution statutes. While someone may be an ace negotiator in their day job, arguing the finer points about one’s own house or children is decidedly more emotional and difficult.
Of course, these risks are compounded if your spouse has hired a divorce attorney and you haven’t. Someone familiar with the law will be able to communicate with the judge in a way that will put the unrepresented spouse in very disadvantageous position. What may seem like fast-talking legal jargon can actually be extremely important and you don’t want to bring a knife to a gun fight.
Should you hire a divorce lawyer?
For some people cost simply isn’t an issue. They can afford it and they want to be represented by a great attorney from the very beginning. These folks may not even consider the self-help or mediation stages.
More commonly however, one or both spouses start out on the path to an amicable resolution, but communication breaks down along the way. Perhaps one spouse starts dating, which infuriates the other spouse. Perhaps one spouse simply refuses to believe that they will have to pay spousal or child support, no matter how calmly the mediator explains it to them. Maybe there is a business jointly owned by the spouses that will have to be valued and sold, a complicated procedure requiring some legitimate legal firepower.
There are a variety of reasons why someone chooses to hire their own divorce attorney in California, including the common situations listed above. Having your own attorney fighting exclusively for your rights, property and children can be comforting in an otherwise confusing time. Having your own attorney also provides you access to current, accurate information about the state of the law and of your own proceedings. Finally, a divorce attorney can help shepherd you through the process quickly. Attorneys know the deadlines and important dates and can keep things on track.
Asking how much divorce costs in California is a loaded question, as you can see. Everyone’s needs are different and luckily most family law attorneys offer no-cost consultations to review your situation. If you have questions about how a divorce works in California call us at (858) 964-2324 and we can help.