Divorce is a difficult time, and worrying about the cost only adds to the stress. In 2021, there were over 689,000 divorce cases in the U.S. If you’re wondering how much do divorce lawyers cost, on average, they charge between $200 and $500 per hour. In this article, we’ll break down all the different costs you might face, so you know what to expect. Let’s start!
Now let’s look at how much do divorce lawyers cost in terms of each of these fees.
In a divorce case, lawyers may charge you in different ways. These usually fall into three categories: consultation and retainer legal fees for divorce, and hourly rates. Let’s examine these fee categories to help you budget and expect your expenses.
A consultation is often your first point of contact with a divorce lawyer. It serves as a crucial step for various reasons.
When it comes to costs, consultations aren’t always free. The price generally hovers around $300 to $400. But, several variables can influence this fee. These include the lawyer’s years of experience and the geographical location where they practice.
For example, divorce lawyer consultation fees can be higher in specific cities and states. In areas like Washington, DC, New York City, Los Angeles/Orange County, San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago, you may find yourself paying 20-25% more than the national average, approximately $450 per consultation.
Likewise, states such as the District of Columbia, California, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut rank among the most expensive places in the U.S. to consult or hire a lawyer, with the total cost of the entire case reaching more than $12,000.
After the initial consultation, if you feel the attorney is the right fit for your case, the next step involves paying a retainer fee. This fee acts as a financial commitment, ensuring the lawyer’s availability and dedication to your case over a specified period or set of tasks.
The cost of a retainer varies, often falling between $3,000 and $5,000. But, these figures can fluctuate based on several factors such as the complexity of your case and the attorney’s level of expertise.
The average divorce retainer fee in the United States is around $3,000. For experienced lawyers, the retainer fee can even go up to approximately $12,500.
Now let’s see how much do divorce lawyers cost per hour.
Hourly rates are another separate billing model that offers you the flexibility to pay for only the time the attorney spends on your matter.
The average hourly rate for a divorce attorney is around $270. But, this rate is not uniform across the board. On the lower end of the spectrum, less than 10% of attorneys might charge around $100 per hour. On the opposite end, qualified lawyers can charge upwards of $500 per hour.
It’s essential to note that some contracts delineate different divorce lawyer rates for various types of work. For example, lawyers often charge more for time spent in court. This is usually higher than the rate for office tasks like research or document preparation.
Also, instead of opting for an hourly rate, some lawyers offer payment plans. These plans break down the total lawyer cost for divorce into 3-5 manageable payments. Such arrangements can provide financial ease, allowing you to focus more on the emotional aspects of the divorce process.
In this section, we’ll provide you with insights that illuminate average costs by state and by the experience level of the attorney.
The average cost of a divorce in the United States, focusing on attorney fees, can range between $8,000 to $14,000 per case. This average takes into account all types of divorce cases, from straightforward to complex, across different states.
Geographical location impacts the average cost of a divorce lawyer. Below are some of the most and least expensive states, based on approximate average prices:
The hourly rate for a divorce attorney can vary based on their years of experience. Here’s an approximate breakdown:
|Years of experience||Average hourly rate|
|0-1||$150 to $200|
|1-3||$200 to $275|
|4-6||$275 to $350|
|7-9||$350 to $425|
|10-14||$425 to $500|
Remember, the divorce process often involves more than just attorney fees. Here are some other costs to expect.
Court fees are a required aspect of the divorce process, irrespective of how amicable the situation might be. These can range from $75 to $435, depending on your jurisdiction.
Here, we offer a list of average filing fees for divorce, categorized by state, to give you a more complete financial picture.
|State||Average Filing Fee|
|District of Columbia||$80|
|Hawaii||$215 (no minor children), $265 (with minor children)|
|Idaho||$155 (no minor children), $207 (with minor children)|
|Louisiana||up to $250|
|Michigan||$175 (no minor children), $255 (with minor children)|
|Missouri||$134 (no minor children), $234 (with minor children)|
|Nevada||$217 (first appearance), $300 (joint petition)|
|North Carolina||$75 (absolute divorce), $150 (district court cases)|
|Texas||$300 (variables apply)|
|Vermont||$90 (resident), $295 (non-resident)|
|Virginia||Calculated per district|
|Wisconsin||$185 (no support issues), $195 (with support issues)|
Divorce costs can get complicated because of child custody evaluations. A court-appointed mental health expert checks what’s best for the child in these evaluations. This usually happens when parents can’t agree on custody. It can also happen when the court needs extra advice to make a decision.
The cost for this critical evaluation can range from $3,000 to $15,000, depending on various factors. Here’s a closer look at what could impact the final bill:
Talk to your lawyer about the costs of child custody evaluations to know how much you’ll likely pay for your situation.
Divorce mediation is when a neutral third-party helps you and your spouse agree on things. This avoids going to court for a trial. Mediation option is often more cost-effective and can save you a considerable amount in legal fees.
Unlike a judge or an arbitrator, a mediator won’t make decisions for you. The mediator has several key roles:
In the United States, the cost of divorce mediation services tends to vary, but the average price is around $4,500 as a fixed fee or $300 per hour.
Please note that if the court has accused one of the partners of crimes against the other and/or issued a restraining order, mediation is not available.
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In most divorce cases, each person pays for their own lawyer. This includes different types of fees like a retainer and hourly charges. Also, the person who starts the divorce usually pays the fees to file it in court. But if you can’t afford these fees, you might be able to get them waived.
But, there are exceptions where the court may shift the burden of attorney fees to one spouse. Let’s examine these.
If you’re in one of the following situations, the court might call you a “dependent spouse”:
If you’re a dependent spouse, the court could order your spouse to pay your legal fees. This makes sure both people have an equal chance to get good legal help.
In instances where one spouse’s actions inflate the divorce costs — such as being uncooperative or filing frivolous claims — the court may order that spouse to cover the other’s legal fees. This holds true regardless of the financial standing of either spouse.
If you find yourself either financially disadvantaged or facing a spouse who is driving up the costs, consult your attorney. They can guide you on how to petition the court to have your legal fees paid by your spouse under these specific conditions.
A contested or uncontested divorce has a strong impact on its price. Let’s find out.
Sometimes both people in a marriage agree it’s time to end things. Courts refer to this as an “uncontested divorce”. It’s usually faster and less complicated. The cost can range from $300 to $5,000. The big difference in price often depends on whether you get a lawyer to help you out.
Without a lawyer, you just pay for the court fees and paperwork. With a lawyer, the cost goes up, but you also get peace of mind.
Remember, even if both of you agree on the divorce, you might disagree about why you’re getting divorced. For example, if one person cheated or was abusive, this could make things more expensive due to the physical or emotional distress of the other.
A “contested divorce” happens when both parties can’t agree on key issues, such as asset division, child custody, or alimony. These disagreements make the process more complex, and the costs go up as a result.
The median cost of a contested divorce is around $7,000, but the average cost can range from $8,000 to $14,000. These figures include:
For example, if you or your spouse own a business, expect to pay more for an evaluation of the business value. Complex child custody battles or high-value property divisions can also make the costs skyrocket.
Before deciding on a legal representative, you need to weigh how much is a divorce attorney against the services and expertise they offer. Perhaps they offer more than you need, or vice versa.
Remember, saving money is good, but ensuring that you have competent legal representation should also be a priority. Legal mistakes can be very costly and stressful in the long run.
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As a quick bonus, we will talk about the annual earnings of divorce lawyers. Below are some key insights into the earnings of divorce attorneys.
In the United States, the estimated total pay for divorce lawyers stands at around $183,239 per year. This figure includes bonuses, profit sharing, and other forms of compensation beyond base salary, which averages at $138,089 per year.
Now, let’s break down the average salaries based on years of experience.
|Years of experience||Estimated total pay (per year)||Average base salary (per year, without bonuses)|
Keep in mind that these numbers apply to the US average and may change based on the area.
Getting a divorce can be expensive, but there are ways to save money too. If you’re wondering how much do divorce lawyers cost, you should know that on average, you might spend between $8,000 and $14,000 for a lawyer to handle your whole case. Lawyers usually charge around $270 an hour. You’ll also likely need to pay a first-time fee, or ‘retainer’, of about $3,000. Your first consultation with a divorce lawyer could cost you around $350.
When you add it all up, a typical divorce could cost you close to $10,000. These costs can change based on where you live and how complicated your case is. But, you can reduce costs by mediation or gathering necessary documents yourself. So, it’s a good idea to consult with a divorce attorney to get an accurate cost estimate for your situation.
An uncontested divorce might take up to 6 months, whereas a contested one can take a year or more.
Many factors contribute to the cost, such as legal fees, court fees, and extra expenses like child custody evaluations.
The average retainer fee is $3,000 but can range to $10,000 based on the complexity of the case.
A contested divorce costs from $12,500. An uncontested one equals the court fee in your state (if there was no lawyer involved).