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Worthy Divorce

How Much Does Divorce Cost?

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By Holly Hammersmith

Saying “I do” may have been easier than saying “I do not” will be. Divorce is costly and takes a financial toll, as well as a social and emotional toll. If children are involved, divorce can impact living arrangements, routines and the sense of congruency a family may have once had.

But, separation in a marriage is also a reality with approximately 25 percent of first marriages alone, ending in divorce, according to the American Family Association Journal.

When it comes to the dollar amount involved with getting divorced, there is no one-size-fits all. However, some ballpark figures for cost of divorce put it at between $15,000 and $30,000, according to a report by This number will vary depending on where a couple lives, how complicated the divorce is and how drawn out the process becomes.

Because of the hefty price that often comes with divorce, some couples will attempt to forgo attorney fees and try a “do-it-yourself” divorce by filing paperwork found online directly with their local court. However, this tactic typically only proves effective if spouses can communicate effectively, finances are simple, no debts are involved and a couple can agree on custody arrangements with children.

The reality is many marriages do not fit into this simple scenario, and emotions often run high during divorce proceedings. When looking at a traditional divorce involving attorneys for each party, here are some of the costs that can be expected:

What costs go into a divorce?

• Divorce Lawyers
The bulk of divorce costs go to legal fees. In fact, matrimonial law work is a $28 billion a year industry, according to the Forbes report. The cost of hiring a divorce lawyer varies, depending on which state the parties live in. If each party hires their own counsel, expect to pay at least $5,000 per person in legal fees. And when children are involved, that figure can double to $10,000 per person in legal fees.

On the high end, a couple living in Los Angeles may pay up to $350 per hour for each attorney, according to a report by Business Insider. On average though, a rate of $250 per hour can be expected when hiring a divorce attorney. In order to pay for these costs, some couples may agree to sell some of their belongings to help pay for divorce costs. When a marriage is dissolving, items such as an engagement ring may no longer hold emotional value. Selling an engagement ring is one way to help finance divorce costs.

• Retirement Plans & Other Accounts
It’s possible a judge may order that retirement plans such as a 401(k) be split during divorce proceedings. Just because an account was primarily in one spouse’s name does not mean that spouse will keep all of the assets in the account. Consider that any accounts may be split in half during proceedings, when estimating the cost of divorce. Just as retirement accounts can be split during a divorce, keep in mind that any liquid assets in savings or checking accounts may be split as well.

• Divorce Court Costs
Showing up in court to process a divorce is not free. From filing fees for documents to administrative fees to process those documents, court costs will add up and play into the divorce. These costs will also vary by state, but may be as much as $2,000.


Selling an engagement ring is one way to help finance divorce costs.

• Splitting of Shared Debt
Even if one partner brought debt into a marriage, any accounts that are jointly shared, such as auto loans, a mortgage, credit card debt and other personal loan payments can be split up during divorce proceedings. If balances are due, be prepared to negotiate in court, or with your ex, on who will pay. If your name is on the account, be aware that creditors may also pursue payment from you if your ex does not pay the bills.

• Splitting of Assets
Tangible items and goods that were part of a marriage, must now be divided up. From the house, to vehicles, and personal and household belongings − these items are all at risk for loss during a divorce. The cost to repurchase items or start new should be factored into the overall divorce cost. In particular, if real estate is involved, that can add extra costs to a divorce proceeding – including added attorney fees and refinancing costs.

• Co-parenting Classes
These are specialized classes that help parents work though a custody agreement for their children. The classes usually cost less than $500, and are helpful when parents do not initially agree on where their children should live or how visits should be handled.

• Potential Loss of Income
Lastly, if one parent was a stay at home parent to children, or unemployed outside the home, divorce can cost future income and earning potential. Following a divorce a woman’s household income typically falls 41 percent, and a man’s household income falls at least 20 percent, according to data from a 2012 General Accountability Office report as cited by Bloomberg Business. Further, “recent research shows that at least a quarter of women end up in poverty after a divorce, losing their health insurance, homes and a steady source of income,” according to a recent report in Redbook magazine.

Just as each marriage is different, each divorce will play out differently. Even if a couple tries a simple approach to separation, financial assets, debts and property will all be factored into the split. In the end, while a divorce will cost some money, and there will also be an emotional cost that comes with separation.

About the Author
Holly Hammersmith is a Cleveland, Ohio-based freelance financial writer. She started her career as a reporter in the daily newspaper industry. Later she worked for Fortune 500 financial services company Lincoln Financial Group, writing and editing marketing and communications materials for over 8,000 financial advisors and assistants. She has also written a personal blog since 2010. Learn more here.

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