How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost?

How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost?

When facing divorce, separating couples often ask, “how much does a divorce lawyer cost?” The cost of hiring a divorce lawyer varies depending on the details of the case and the payment model the attorney uses. It’s important for both parties to understand the costs associated with divorce to determine how much each individual will spend on the process. This will help divorcees plan ahead and set aside a budget to cover divorce proceedings.

The Average Cost of Divorce

The cost of divorce varies based on a number of factors. These include but are not limited to: the cost of retaining an attorney, court fees, mediation, and child custody evaluations. Generally, the average cost of divorce in the U.S. is around $15,000, with the bulk of these expenses going toward legal fees. High asset divorce cases may cost more than those involving assets of lower value. Additionally, if the divorce case is especially complex, it may take more time to reach a resolution, resulting in higher costs.

To better determine how much divorce will cost before beginning proceedings, divorcees can estimate their total based on the services they need and the factors influencing their cases. 

Hourly Rates and Retainer Fees

A typical divorce lawyer will charge a retainer, which is an upfront fee that functions as a down payment for the attorney’s representation. This helps indicate to the attorney that his or her client is capable and willing to pay in full for legal services.

The retainer fee for an attorney will vary from lawyer to lawyer, but it typically falls between $3,000 and $5,000. The more complex the case and the higher the quality of legal services, the more this retainer fee will cost.

In some cases, lawyers may charge a retainer fee in addition to an hourly rate. Others may subtract the total hourly fees from the retainer once the case is complete, and then charge the remainder to the client. 

If an attorney charges an hourly rate, alternative billing methods may be available to help clients reconcile the charges more easily. 

Factors That Influence the Total Cost of a Divorce

To calculate the total cost of a divorce case, there are a few key factors to consider. These include:

The Need for an Attorney

One of the biggest expenses involved in a divorce will be the cost of an attorney. If the divorce is simple and doesn’t involve high-value assets or disagreements between both spouses, divorcing parties may not need to hire an attorney. However, most divorce cases benefit from the involvement of an experienced lawyer or mediator.

The Involvement of Children or Complex Financial Matters

If divorce proceedings involve child custody and visitation, child support, property division, alimony, or other complex elements, this could greatly increase the total cost. Additionally, divorces frequently involve disagreements about the distribution of finances. Financial stress is the second leading cause of divorce in the U.S. Irreconcilable disagreements about these complex issues can drag out the divorce proceedings.

The Ability for Both Parties to Agree on the Issues Involved

The divorce process is far less expensive when the issues are simple and both parties can come to an agreement to resolve them. The cost of hiring an attorney is typically considerably less if divorcees can settle issues out of court. 

Other Fees and Costs Associated With Divorce

In addition to the cost of hiring an attorney, there are fees involved in many divorce cases that can contribute to the overall cost, such as:

Filing Fees

The filing fees for a divorce differ based on where the parties are filing. It’s possible to determine what the filing fees are in a given state by reaching out to the clerk’s office or visiting the state’s website. These sources may also help locate the types of forms that individuals will need to complete and file during the divorce process.


Mediation involves a non-adversarial attempt to settle divorce issues to avoid the need to take the case to trial. The court may order both parties to attend mediation if necessary. Throughout the mediation process, a judge, attorney-mediator, or qualifying mediator will serve as a neutral party who’s responsible for helping both divorcees reach an agreeable settlement.

If individuals are unable to afford mediation, the court may choose to offer discounts or waive the fees associated with hiring a mediator.

Child Custody Evaluation

If the court orders a child custody evaluation, or if one spouse requests one, this could increase the cost of the divorce process. During this evaluation, a mental health professional will interview both parents and get to know the child while observing the relationship between the parents and child. Child custody evaluations usually take place if both parties are unable to reach an agreement regarding parenting plans on their own or via other non-adversarial methods, such as mediation.

The Cost of Hiring a Divorce Attorney 

Ultimately, there are a variety of expenses involved in divorce proceedings. The cost of hiring a divorce attorney will depend on the attorney’s qualifications and reputability, the circumstances of the divorce case, and the amount of time it takes to resolve the issues involved. Local fees, mediation, and the costs of evaluations can also increase the total cost of divorce.

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