One of the many challenging things about a divorce is uncertainty about how much it will cost. Couples having a contentious divorce in which each is represented by an attorney can see their costs spiral out of control. If you are both committed to working out a full agreement to avoid a court battle, it is possible to get a good estimate up front of your total costs and perhaps even a fixed price.
Divorces involve the following types of costs:
- Court filing fee;
- Professional fees to gather information;
- Court paperwork preparation, filing and service;
- Professional fees to resolve the issues.
The first three of these are usually fixed. The last is usually variable.
The court filing fee to start a divorce case is currently $435 in most California counties. It’s mandatory unless your income is low enough to qualify you for a fee waiver. If the non-filing spouse chooses to file a response with the court, the court fee for the response is also $435. Usually there are no other court fees. If there are any (due to filing motions with the court), the court fees are small.
Fairly often in a divorce it makes sense to have a professional assist in obtaining information. Usually this is to value an important asset such as a house, pension or a business. It might also be helpful to obtain professional input on areas such as parenting, employment prospects or taxation. Usually spouses pay (or can negotiate) a fixed fee for these services.
Attorneys, Legal Document Assistants and paralegals will give you a fixed fee to take care of all required court paperwork. The range for this is about $500 to $1500. You normally will want to ensure that this includes filing the paperwork with the court and serving it as well. Online paperwork generation websites charge about $200 but do not file or serve the documents.
Professional Fees to Resolve Issues
Attorneys and mediators are usually reluctant to quote a fixed price for a divorce. This is because of the uncertainty as to how long it will take to resolve the issues. Many factors create this uncertainty including the complexity, the couple’s communication dynamics and their desire (or lack of) to work together towards solutions.
As a result, attorneys and mediators usually prefer to charge by the hour. It’s much more likely that a mediator will agree to a fixed price since the mediator will be working with both spouses. This allows them to better assess the likelihood of success and the time it will take to get there. Attorneys representing just one spouse will have a harder time gauging how much of their time will be required.
Mediators willing to offer a fixed price usually do so for relatively straightforward divorces. They will gather enough information up front from the couple to be reasonably confident as to how much time will be required. If they offer a fixed price without gathering this up-front information, beware that they may have a relatively rigid process and they may be inclined to push your towards their solutions.
Don’t hesitate to ask your mediator for a fixed price if you would like to have one. At the very least, he or she should be willing to give you a good estimate of the total cost for their services and the total overall cost of the divorce.
In summary, for many couples it is possible to have a fixed price divorce (or at least establish a total divorce cost up front) by adding up the costs above. This is especially true if you are working towards an amicable resolution, either on your own or with the help of a mediator.