There’s no getting around it: divorce can be expensive. According to a survey conducted by legal site Nolo.com, the average divorce in the United States costs around $15,500. And that’s just the average; while Nolo.com found that a lucky few were able to get out of their marriages for as little as $1,000, some people incurred bills of over $100,000 during the divorce process.
Three main factors determine the cost of divorce: the complexities involved in your particular case, the level of animosity between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse, and your chosen divorce method. Let’s break down how each can increase (or decrease) the financial costs associated with divorce.
The Complexities Involved in Your Case
Divorce is rarely a simple choice, but it’s certainly true that some divorce cases are simpler than others. A whole host of complexities can come up that make your divorce proceedings more difficult to untangle. Such complications can include:
- Jointly-owned assets or jointly-shared debts
- Large differences in income between you and your spouse
- Income variability for one or both spouses
- Self-employment or business ownership
- Domestic violence or substance abuse
- The length of the marriage
In general, the more complexities that your case involves, the greater your cost of divorce will be.
The Level of Animosity Between You and Your Soon-to-Be Ex-Spouse
While depictions of divorce in television shows and movies tend to involve a lot of screaming and throwing of objects, not all divorces are contentious. Sometimes a married couple mutually decides to divorce without significant ill will between them.
There are obviously emotional benefits to divorce without hostility, but the financial benefits can be significant, too. Why? Simply put, if you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse have a degree of trust for each other and are willing to work together and compromise, the chances that the divorce process will go quickly and smoothly are much greater–and quick, uncontested divorces are much cheaper than the alternative.
On the other hand, a divorce in which spouses try to conceal assets, refuse to communicate with each other and generally dig their heels in can get long, involved–and expensive.
Your Chosen Divorce Method
The complexities of your particular case and how willing you. You and Your spouse are to work together both affect the final determinant of divorce cost: the method of divorce.
For a couple who have an uncomplicated case and who are able to work together to a certain degree, a do-it-yourself divorce may be a good and inexpensive choice. A DIY divorce can range from $300 to $1,800 in total. If you don’t want to go the DIY route but you still don’t have a lot of complex issues to work through and are on good terms with your spouse, mediation is another relatively inexpensive option, typically ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.
However, there are potentially significant downsides to going through a divorce without a lawyer. You may realize that you didn’t stipulate something important in your divorce decree (such as who gets to make medical decisions for minor children). This can add to headache and court costs later on. If you and your spouse have gotten to the point where you can’t even stand to be in the same room, it can be helpful to have lawyers to act as go-betweens.
Even when lawyers get involved, your cost of divorce doesn’t necessarily skyrocket. Couples who are able to settle their divorce issues without going to trial see average costs of $14,500 (according to Nolo.com), whereas the average cost of a divorce that involves a trial is $19,600. In both cases, the majority of those costs–$12,200 and $15,800, respectively–were for attorney’s fees.