What Does a Divorce Cost?

A frequent question from callers is some form of “what will my divorce cost?” The problem is that there is no simple answer. In some ways it is like asking what does a house cost, or what does a car cost. The difference of course is that we don’t know what your divorce is going to end up looking like.

While there is no good answer to the question what does a house cost – it could be $200,000 or it could be $20 million – with a good set of blueprints, a builder can start to estimate what the house you want to build might run. If you want to know what a car costs, you can go car shopping, get some prices for different models, and pick one in your price range.

Unfortunately there are no blueprints for your divorce, and there is no dealership full of low mileage divorces ready to be driven off the lot. When you come in to start your divorce, we don’t know how much of our time is going to be needed to get you and your spouse to a settlement. However, as we discuss your divorce situation, we can start to narrow down the kind of range you might typically be looking for.

One big issue is the type of divorce process that the two of you are going to use. Like cars, there are different models, with different costs associated with them. You need to figure out which model is going to work best for you.

The most common divorce model is the litigation model. Litigation is good for getting to a result. With litigation, you know that one way or another, whether you can agree or not, you will ultimately be given a decision by someone. Litigation basically means the outcome is based on a third party decision maker – usually a judge, but it could also be a private arbitrator. Even if the case is settled out of court, it is generally based on an analysis of what would happen if we went to court. The cost range associated with litigation is the broadest. Depending on how easily the two parties are able too reach agreement on key issues, how much they want to fight over everything, how complex their issues are, and who the attorneys are, the costs can range from fairly low to extremely high.

Probably the lowest cost model is what I call the “kitchen table” approach. That means the two of you sit down at home and come to your own agreements. The costs then are generally limited to paying the court filing fee, and maybe having lawyers prepare the paperwork and answer any legal questions you might have. However, many couples are not able to reach agreement this way.  The discussions may just turn into arguments, and the two of you may find yourselves getting stuck on the same points, no matter how many times you try.  You also may feel lost without more legal guidance.

For couples who want to work out their own solutions, but find that they are having trouble talking to each other, sometimes mediation can help. A mediator can help facilitate the conversation, i.e. guide the conversation to help it get past the stuck points. A mediator can remind the parties when they need to take a breath and stop talking, can help them brainstorm different ideas than the ones they are polarized on, and can suggest options that neither party has come up with on their own. Often a mediator will help couples to get behind their positions, to look at what is really most important to them, so that they can find ways to address those interests, goals and concerns in ways that may be different than they imagined, but that may also be more acceptable to each other. This approach costs more than the kitchen table approach, but can still be very reasonable as the parties are doing much of the work of negotiating and coming up with solutions themselves.

Another approach is Collaboration. This is also designed to help couples come up with their own solutions, but provides a higher level of support for couples in conflict, or couples that want to make sure they have had divorce professionals help them create the best solutions possible for their issues. In a Collaborative process, the parties work with a professional team, who are all trained in both mediation and the specifics of Collaborative process. The Collaborative process is designed to lead the parties through a discussion of: 1) what do they have, 2) what are their goals, 3) what are the all of the options available to them, 4) which options would best help them meet their goals, and 5) what does each party need to offer to the other to induce the other to reach an agreement. Because of the higher level of support, costs for a Collaborative process tend to be more in the range of litigation, though often in the lower part of that range.