We have all heard of the shocking cost of some celebrity divorces. But, what about the rest of us? A divorce can be costly at any financial level. One of the first questions an individual pondering divorce has is, “how much does a divorce cost?” And, many of us have seen the advertisements claiming that you can be divorced for $400. Unfortunately, the real answer to how much a divorce costs remains illusive. The cost of a divorce really is on a case by case basis. A divorce can be inexpensive or it can cost just as much if not more than your wedding. Below are some considerations that can impact the cost of a divorce:
The Relationship between the divorcing parties: The nature of your relationship with your soon to be ex-spouse significantly impacts how much your divorce will cost. Clearly, if you are getting a divorce then your relationship is not doing well. However, the more contentious the divorce, the more time consuming the legal work, and the cost of the divorce may increase if experts are required. Contentious divorces are costly and time consuming. It is not uncommon for one of the parties to be so entrenched in their position no matter how unreasonable, despite the monetary cost to the parties. However, there is the rare case where the parties are amicable. As a result, the divorce process can proceed fairly smoothly and in the end cost the parties very little. In addition, an amicable divorce can preserve marital assets.
Collaborative divorce versus litigation: On October 13, 2014, I wrote about the Collaborative Law Act being passed in New Jersey. Collaborative law affords parties a way to resolve family law disputes without intervention of the courts. The parties work with a team of professionals to reach a settlement agreement. While purporting to provide an amicable approach to divorce, it is not clear if a collaborative divorce is financially advantageous. If the process breaks down, each party must start the divorce process anew, this time with new counsel as the Collaborative Law Act prohibits both parties from using the collaborative lawyers.
Legal Representation: Family law attorneys usually seek a retainer which can be determined on the complexity of the matter and other factors. Thus, there is no bright line rule for what a retainer will be. The attorney will bill hourly. Once the retainer has been exhausted it has to be replenished. While some individuals choose to represent themselves in order to save money, this is uncommon and may not be wise when it comes to significant issues such as custody and parenting time, child support, spousal support, and division of marital assets. Usually each party retains counsel and is responsible for payment of their own legal fees, although the court is permitted to use marital assets to fund a litigation or may require a contribution towards the other’s legal fees based on a number of factors, such as whether one party exhibits bad faith during the litigation and/or there is a large disparity in assets or earning capacity.
The length of litigation: A divorce can occur quickly or it can take years to finalize depending on the parties. The more contentious a divorce the more costly it can be.
Motion Practice: During a divorce it may become necessary to engage the Court’s assistance in resolving issues the parties cannot resolve before going to trial. For example, if a spouse is in need of financial support and the parties cannot reach an agreement a motion may be required. The attorney will bill for each motion/cross-motion, reply and court appearance that is required, by the hour.
Extent of the assets and/or debt and complexity of the matter: The bigger the marital estate, the more the divorce may cost, as accounting experts and other assets may need to trace and/or value assets, or determine cash flow for support purposes. These experts may also need to testify at trial if the matter does not reach a settlement, which costs additional monies. The use of experts such as accountants, appraisers, employability experts, real estate experts, and custody experts increases the financial cost of the litigation.
Custody: If custody is an issue then psychological evaluations of the parties and children may be required for the parties and the children. These experts will issue reports, may be deposed and will testify at trial, for which they charge an hourly rate. In addition, if the court finds that the parents are inadequately protecting the rights of the children, it is possible that the court will appoint a guardian ad litem for the children, which is a lawyer specifically for the children. Sometimes a parenting coordinate may be chosen or appointed to assist the parents in times of conflict.
The precise cost of a divorce cannot be predicted, and costs can vary extremely widely among different litigants and cases. The way that litigants conduct themselves and treat one another is, however, something that litigants have control over that has direct impact on the financial costs of the divorce, and on the emotional costs.