If you’re divorcing soon, you may be devastated — or thrilled. Often, divorces aren’t so terrible — it’s the weeks, months and years leading up to the dispiriting end of the marriage that can be gut-wrenching. But while your emotions may be all over the place, one thing is constant in all marriages that end: Divorce is expensive.
So what does your wallet have to look forward to during a divorce? We’ll give you a financial breakdown of a breakup.
Average Cost of a Divorce
It’s a fool’s errand to look at numbers and compare your expenses to what the “average” divorced couple will spend. If you’re rich, you’re going to spend a fortune, and perhaps it’ll be far more expensive than average. If you’re middle class, you won’t spend what wealthy couples spend, but it’ll still be unpleasant.
Still, if you want a number, many sources suggest $15,000 as a total cost of a divorce. The legal website Nolo.com suggests that the average total cost is $12,900, including $11,300 in attorney fees and $1,600 for court costs and fees for tax advisors, real estate appraisers and other experts.
[Read: How to Build an Emergency Fund.]
Those numbers, though, are in many ways far too low — if you start thinking about the expenses you’ll incur due to, say, paying spousal support or losing a spouse’s health benefits and having to cover them on your own. Plus, you may go from a two-income household to one.
So if you’re looking for a better picture of the types of expenses you’ll likely need to budget for in a divorce, here are some of them.
How Much Divorce Attorney Fees Cost
As noted, they can be high. Demetria Graves, a certified family law specialist and managing partner of The Graves Law Firm in Los Angeles, says that if both spouses hire an attorney, costs can range from $2,500 to $50,000.
Assuming some smelling salts have now revived you, keep in mind that how much you spend on a divorce attorney depends, according to Graves, on whether you have a simple dissolution taking up about five hours of an attorney’s time or a much more complex one, taking up around 20 hours. It also is based on what you’ll pay to divorce in Los Angeles. If you live in a town with a lower cost of living, you’ll pay less.
Generally, you pay these fees, according to Graves, on a retainer. She says: “If your matter exceeds the retainer, you are charged at the hourly rate of anywhere from $200 to $2,000 an hour.”
How Much Court Filing Fees for a Divorce May Cost
Expect to pay at least several hundred dollars. Graves says that there’s the initial filing fee — in LA, that’s $435 — motion fees ($90 to $115 in Los Angeles) and court reporter fees. She adds: “Most attorneys charge for travel to court hearings, depositions, parking for court hearings.” Well, you get the idea.
Court filing fees, meanwhile, vary by location. In Indiana, the filing fee is $157. In Maine, it’s $120. In Kentucky, it’s $148 without an attorney and $153 with one. If you live in Alabama, you’ll pay $400, and in Kansas, also $400. You’ll just need to type your state into a search engine along with “court filing fee cost,” and you can find your state’s figure.
How Much Selling a Home Costs When You’re Divorcing
It’s impossible to say what you’re going to pay, but this is your most valuable asset, and so whether you’re keeping it or letting the other person have it, you want to handle this carefully.
Just one example of what to consider when selling a home in the midst of a divorce:
“Many times when divorcing, couples decide to split the plan to sell the marital home. But oftentimes the house may be in need of updates or repairs to make it market-ready. So if one spouse is staying in the home with the intent to sell, be sure to keep in mind repair costs and commissions when you are factoring in possible net proceeds,” says Kathy Helbig, owner and broker of Experience Realty Partners in St. Louis. Helbig is a certified divorce real estate expert and specializes in helping divorced couples sell their homes.
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
The Cost of Living Expenses During a Divorce
Your household revenue may be slashed if you’re going from a two-income household to a one-income one, while your living expenses may continue pretty much as always. You’ll have to think about your rent or mortgage, car payments, utilities and all of your living expenses. You know that, of course, but make sure you’re thinking about this when you budget. You’ll also want to put aside money for emergencies.
If you’re going to be paying for spousal support or child support, that’s something else to budget for.
Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce Costs
What’s really important to remember is that if you’re going to contest a divorce, it’s going to be more expensive than if you have an uncontested divorce. For those who don’t know the difference because you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about divorce, an uncontested divorce means you two have managed to agree on how you’re splitting everything up. A contested divorce generally means you have a major disagreement on something — or maybe everything.
Granted, sometimes an uncontested divorce simply can’t be helped. You both disagreed during the marriage. It shouldn’t be a shock that you can’t come together for a meeting of the minds when you’re splitting up. But if you can have an uncontested divorce, in the end, everybody will spend less — and if you have kids, they’ll benefit emotionally, too, by not seeing two people they dearly love go to war.
You both will likely benefit emotionally as well.
“Conflict costs money. The more the divorcing couple fights, the more expensive it will be,” says Helbig. “So weigh the cost of the fight versus the cost of the thing being fought over. It’s not unusual to see people’s emotions take over, causing them to spend $5,000 in attorney fees arguing over something that’s only worth $1,000.”
What to Do if You Can’t Afford the Cost of a Divorce
If you both agree that you should divorce, you can probably get it done even if you’re generally broke. You’re just going to have to do it in an unconventional, possibly incremental, way. You’ll also have to work together to make the divorce as inexpensive as possible, which could be good — if it helps pave the way for a happier post-marriage life.
In other words, you will not be the couple who each employs an expensive divorce lawyer. Nobody’s going to be moving out and getting a penthouse apartment while hiring that lawyer. This is going to be a more of a do-it-yourself divorce.
For instance, Daniel Hill, a certified financial planner and president of Hill Wealth Strategies in Richmond, Virginia, says, “For my clients who want to divorce but feel they can’t afford to, I counsel them on the option of ending the marriage but still remaining within the same household. This will save both parties higher expenses related to moving out, alimony, child care and potentially longer work transportation commutes.”
That may sound impossible, but a short-lived two-season sitcom, “Splitting Up Together,” was based on that premise. It doesn’t mean that you divorce and remain together for years. Maybe it’s six months. Maybe it’s four to six weeks. But rather than somebody rushing out and paying for a hotel or apartment that they can’t afford, if both parties go through the process of divorcing but stay together until they can can break up without financially destroying themselves, it could make sense.
And cohabiting in the meantime may not be terrible, if you both generally like each other but simply feel you can’t remain married. But it’s a strategy that won’t work for everyone.
[Read: How to Save Money for Your Kids.]
Ways to Avoid an Expensive Divorce
It’s probably clear by now, but if you want to avoid an expensive divorce, there are ways to do that. Keep the following in mind.
Agree with your soon-to-be ex where you can. Nobody is saying that you should be a doormat. Sure, you need to stand up for yourself. “If you can reach an agreement with your ex on your own, you can have a lawyer draft an agreement so you know it’s done correctly, and this is far cheaper than having an attorney negotiate your divorce,” says Emily Rubenstein, a divorce attorney in Beverly Hills, California.
“If you have questions for an attorney but don’t need full representation, many divorce lawyers offer unbundled consultation services,” she adds.
Or maybe you can’t settle everything but you can settle some things, Rubenstein says. “Even if a couple can’t settle it all on their own, the less they need lawyers, mediators and other divorce professionals, the less expensive their divorce will be. If a couple can settle three out of five issues, they will have a more affordable divorce than if they can’t settle any issues,” she says.
It is a frustrating irony, though, of amicably ending things and managing to keep your costs low during a divorce. You have to work together to try and make sure that each of you come out of this as reasonably happy as possible. In other words, you may each need to be the type of partner that you probably both wished the other had been during the marriage. If so, you may come out of divorce in better shape than you thought.
More from U.S. News