After a decision to pursue the dissolution of a marriage, one of your primary questions will probably be “How much does a divorce cost?” While there is no definitive answer, there are ways to estimate your fees. Every divorce is different, and the associated divorce costs can vary, but there are some fees that are standard regardless of the aspects that make your situation unique.
The average divorce cost in Washington State, and what it covers
Remember that divorce isn’t just one flat fee. To start with, you have to pay a retaining fee to your lawyer; this is essentially a down payment for their services before any legal work is conducted. Once the retainer is paid, most lawyers bill by the hour and can even have different rates for office hours vs. court hours. Depending on experience and location, these hourly rates can vary widely.
It is common for new lawyers to charge at least $225an hour, but a seasoned lawyer can charge two times that for full-scope representation. A lawyer in a high-population area like Tacoma or Seattle will charge higher fees than one serving a low-population or low-income area. In Washington state, the average cost per hour for a divorce lawyer is $314.
Filing fees can also vary and will affect your bottom line. In Washington, it costs on average $280 just to file for the dissolution of a marriage. Generally, the more complicated a divorce is, the more expensive it will be. If you co-own several properties and disagree on how to split them, or if you share children and differ strongly on custody or child support, your lawyers are going to spend more time negotiating, and you will be the one paying for that time. On average, most divorces take about a year to complete, but that time frame can lengthen considerably for divorces that go to trial.
There is also a host of small administrative charges along the way that can really add up; photocopies, notary fees, mailing costs, etc. The amount for these can change by county, but you can check with your local county clerk’s office to get an idea of what each of these and other associated services cost.
In addition, depending on the personal details of your divorce proceedings, you may also need to pay for education classes if you have children and plan to co-parent, mediation fees which can replace but are often in addition to legal fees, psychiatric evaluations if necessary, and mortgage refinancing if you have property. The more property you have, the more complicated the division of assets may be. This is especially true if your spouse disputes either the division or the value of those assets.
Disputes are the single biggest and most unpredictable factor that can drive up divorce costs. In addition to division of assets, disputes can take place over the details of spousal support, child support, and custody agreements.
Disputes often trigger the process of discovery, where you lawyer collects information and gathers evidence in support of your case. This can be very time-consuming and can drive your divorce costs up.
If your spouse is uncooperative or refuses a settlement, then your hourly costs will continue to go up as your lawyer prepares to go to trial. Each dispute and the addition of trial time will increase your overall cost for the divorce. If you think you can resolve some or all of your disputes through mediation, it is well worth your time to pursue that before going to court. An uncontested divorce can significantly lower your legal fees!
There may also be ongoing costs that are not necessarily divorce fees, but are related to your case. For example, spousal support and child support factor into your case and will be required to be paid for a determined amount of time. While those options are not specifically divorce fees, they are related to the decision to divorce and should be taken seriously.
Going through a divorce and making spousal payments can affect your taxes in the coming year, so keep careful note of your fees and proceedings and work with an accountant to get a sense of how your taxes may be affected.
All of these things need to be considered as you consider the overall cost of divorce, but in cases like the examples mentioned above, you can be paying fees related to your divorce long after your dissolution of marriage has been approved by the court.
With all that said, the average full cost of a divorce can be more than $10,000. That number can double or even triple in the case of a contentious or otherwise drawn-out divorce proceedings. That’s just an average, not a benchmark of what your specific costs could be.
Is there any way to estimate what my specific divorce cost will be?
When looking for a lawyer, you need to find someone that offers more than a strong case history and a personality that fits yours; it is in your best interest to work with someone that will be up front about what their services will cost you and what their estimate is of the overall bottom line.
A free consultation or preliminary review of your case can give them a good idea of how much time they will need to bring your case to closure. Knowing the retainer and hourly fees (both office and court fees, if they differ) will help you calculate a reasonable number for your divorce cost based on how many hours they think they’ll need to bill before your case is closed.
Just remember that whatever number they give is not binding. Unforeseen and costly complications can arise, beyond negotiations with a contentious spouse. Be prepared to use the ballpark number from your consultation as a mental starting point and not a final fee.
At Torrone Law we are experienced at all aspects of family law including divorce. We can guide you every step of the way, from filing to a fair and satisfactory resolution. We work with your best interests at heart and will be up-front when discussing the divorce costs associated with your case. Schedule a free consultation today to find out how we can support your unique legal needs.