The Real Cost of Divorce

Father and daughter play together in the living room.

When people think about the divorce, fears about how much it's going to cost aren't far behind. It's true that the monetary cost of divorce can be great, but it also varies widely from case to case. 

But it's not just monetary costs that parents should consider when deciding how to approach their separation. Time and energy are two of the non-monetary resources that can be eaten up by divorce. These and other less tangible costs mean that parents need to focus on more than just a dollar amount. 

How much money will my divorce cost?

Like with most things, the final cost of your divorce will depend on your unique situation. There are a multitude of factors that can inflate or reduce a divorce's price tag, such as:

  • Location
  • Whether or not your divorce is contested
  • Shared assets, such as property or businesses
  • Length of divorce
  • Conflict
  • Rates of legal representation and other professionals 

Some of these factors will be beyond your control. However, there are many aspects of your divorce that are firmly within your realm of influence, and that's where you should focus your energy. 

For one, the type of divorce you and your co-parent choose is going to have a big impact on the final cost of your divorce. Litigating a divorce in a courtroom with attorneys can be very costly, for example, especially if you end up in front of the judge a number of times.

Less conflict means a reduced need to repeatedly involve courts and attorneys. Working out child custody together, perhaps with a mediator, can also result in fewer back-and-forth conversations with your attorney, preventing an excess of billable hours from mounting. 

Divorce Costs Averages

Even though there's no one answer to how much a divorce will cost, average costs across the country can help parents prepare for potential price tags on their own divorces. 

2014 nationwide survey performed by Nolo, an online public legal resource, found the following: 

  • $150 - $350 | Most common range for their attorneys' hourly rates
  • $15,500 | Average price tag for a divorce
  • $12,800 | The amount of money most respondents put exclusively toward attorney's fees

The survey also highlighted several other common experiences: 

  • Increased court involvement meant increased overall costs.
  • Cases that went to trial ended up taking much longer than those that did not: 17.6 months versus the 9 month average for cases that kept court involvement to a minimum. 
  • People with greater court involvement reported lower overall satisfaction with their divorce proceedings.

Beyond money

Divorce is expensive, but the real cost is truly complex. There are many different reasons why a couple may choose to end their relationship, but doing so always comes with an emotional price tag.

Going through a divorce can cause people to experience many strong and distressing emotions such as anger, frustration, regret, and sadness. But it's not just the couple involved that experience these feelings. If they have children, they will also have their own mix of disorienting emotions to work through. 

Both parents and children may have to contend with these emotions long after the divorce is finalized and paid for. 

Depending on the level of complexity during divorce, parents will also be paying with their time as they progress through the separation process. Filling out forms, meeting with attorneys, and appearing in court can cost someone a lot of personal time. Organizing documents, like records of shared assets or expense details, can take quite a bit of time as well. Even after your case is finalized, you may have to continue to maintain documents like records of your communication, shared calendar, parenting expenses, and much more.

Lowering the cost of divorce

While every divorce will have its price, lowering the overall cost is possible. 

Prioritize amicability

Instead of litigation, settling it through collaborative divorce or mediation can help to lower your costs.

Going this route may not work in every case, but if you and your ex-spouse can keep your case peaceful and out of the courtroom, consider these options. As always, speak with your attorney before making any decisions about how to handle your case and to get answers to questions that pertain specifically to your case.

Prepare yourself and your children emotionally

More than just money, you'll want to do all you can to lower the emotional cost that is paid by both yourself and your kids. Have a plan in place before you talk to your kids about your divorce so that you are more prepared to answer their questions about things like where they are going to live or where they will go to school.

Discuss this topic as a family, and always remind your kids that you both still love them very much.

Also, consider enlisting help for yourself and your kids by way of a family therapist. This professional can help save you on the emotional cost of divorce by helping you work through your feelings and teach you healthy ways to cope.

Educate yourself

While saving yourself money and emotional distress during your divorce, you can also save on the cost of time by educating yourself and organizing your information. Education begins by learning about what your case may entail. You can do some research online by visiting your local family court's website to get some information about what your paperwork might be like, how much filing fees may cost, and more.

Once you've done your own research, create a list of questions that are more specific to your situation that you can bring to your attorney.

To help yourself stay organized throughout and after the divorce process, get your paper documents in order and keep them in a safe place. You may even consider making digital copies and uploading them to a secure place online that can be shared with your attorney.

Build a strong co-parenting foundation

The tone of your divorce has an enormous impact on how your co-parenting relationship will function after everything is finalized. If during the divorce, your communication about your children is patchy and filled with strife, you'll be feeling the effects long after your divorce proceedings have finished.

To start that new chapter of your relationship with your co-parent on the best footing possible, make sure you have the basics of co-parenting communication solidified as soon as possible. 

Keep your ongoing communication with your ex-spouse organized in such a way that makes it easy for you to access and locate details you need. Using a tool like OurFamilyWizard® can help to take away some of the stress of keeping your shared parenting information organized as well as accessible to both of you. 

When it's all laid out in front of you, the cost of divorce can look like a lot to take on. Money, emotions, and time are all on the line when you make this decision. However, if you feel like ending your relationship is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself and your children, you should do what you feel is best. In any case, speak to your legal and mental health professionals to get answers to your specific questions and to learn healthy ways to move your family forward through this difficult process.


NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.