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How much does a divorce cost in California?

How much does a divorce cost in California? Read on for everything to know about filing fees, court costs, and what impacts the cost of divorce in CA.

evident Editorial Team
April 2, 2024
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Divorce can be a complicated legal process in addition to a challenging time emotionally. Amidst the challenges, one common source of anxiety is the uncertainty surrounding the costs involved. Many individuals find themselves asking, "How much does a divorce cost in California?"

While providing an exact estimate is difficult, several factors consistently influence the cost of divorce in CA. Understanding these factors can help alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty associated with the divorce process.

In this article, we will explore the key elements that impact divorce costs in California and share data regarding the average cost of divorce in CA. Additionally, we will discuss various resources available for individuals seeking lower-cost divorce options when hiring a California divorce attorney seems financially unfeasible.

Key Takeaways

What is the Average Cost of a Divorce in California?

It's important to note that each divorce is unique, making the notion of an "average divorce" somewhat misleading. That said, according to USA Today, the reported average cost of a divorce in California is approximately $17,500 for cases without children and $26,300 for divorces involving children.

Again, remember that these figures are general estimates, and the actual cost of a divorce in California can vary significantly based on individual circumstances. 

As one example, uncontested divorces are generally much cheaper than contested divorces. Indeed, the cost of an uncontested divorce in California could come in under $1,000, whereas a contested divorce could lead to tens of thousands in attorneys’ fees.

It's essential to consider various factors that influence the overall cost of divorce in California, taking into account the unique aspects of your situation.

What affects California divorce costs?

So, how much is a divorce in California? A few key factors will dictate how much any given divorce in CA costs.

Those factors include:

  • Filing fees and other court fees
  • Attorneys’ fees
  • The complexity of the divorce
  • The contentiousness of the divorce

It is useful to know the relevant filing fees and attorneys' average hourly rates because of their concrete impact on CA divorce costs. 

But the broader, more thematic factors often have a bigger impact on the total cost of divorce in California. As you might expect, hard-fought court battles are significantly more expensive than simpler, more collaborative divorce proceedings.

Divorce Filing Fees in California

Filing fees for divorce in California are typically $435. But note that three counties charge a slight surcharge due to courthouse construction costs. (Those counties are Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Francisco counties). 

There may also be costs associated with serving the divorce papers on your spouse, depending on the method of service. 

Fee waivers in California

You may request a fee waiver if you cannot afford to pay the court filing fees. 

In California, you can qualify for a fee waiver if:

  • You receive public benefits (such as SSI, Medi-Cal, Food Stamps, etc.)
  • Your pre-tax monthly income is below certain levels (see item 5b in this form)
  • You can’t pay the filing fees and also meet your household's basic needs 

How much does a divorce lawyer cost in California?

So, how much does a divorce cost in California? For people that hire a divorce lawyer, attorneys’ fees often end up being the most significant portion of the total cost of divorce.

It is therefore important to understand both how a California divorce attorney will charge for their services and what their total cost might be.  

Fee Structures – Hourly Rates vs. Fixed Fees

Divorce lawyers in California typically charge their clients one of two ways: hourly rates or flat fees.

Under the hourly rate model, you will be billed based on the time the lawyer dedicates to your case. A divorce attorney may also require a retainer fee, which serves as an initial payment from which the lawyer will deduct legal fees and expenses.

With a flat fee arrangement, the divorce attorney charges a fixed fee that is established in advance. Flat fees are more common in straightforward cases, such as an uncontested divorce, where the attorney can more accurately predict how much work will be involved in your divorce case.

Lawyer billing methods

As noted, certain divorce cases are better suited for one fee structure over the other. And the choice of fee structure that works best for you depends on your financial circumstances and the specific context of your divorce.

Divorce Lawyer Cost in California

The average hourly rate for family law lawyers in California is approximately $384 per hour. (Divorce attorneys are a subset of family law attorneys, as divorce falls under the broader legal practice area of Family Law).

Keep in mind, though, that this figure represents an average, and actual hourly rates can vary greatly. Factors such as the lawyer's experience and prevailing market rates in your specific area of the state will dictate actual hourly rates lawyer charges. For instance, divorce attorney fees in big cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco are likely higher on average than lawyers in other regions of California.

While understanding hourly rates is helpful, it's crucial to consider that the total attorneys' fees are primarily influenced by the amount of time the lawyer spends working on your case. (I.e. the $363 hourly rate is less important than whether a California divorce lawyer spends 10 hours or 100 hours working on your case). 

This brings us to the thematic factors that impact the cost of divorce in California: the complexity and contentiousness of your divorce.

Complicated Divorces Are More Expensive

The complexity of your divorce plays a significant role because, as a general rule, the more complex the divorce, the higher the potential cost. A threshold distinction in this regard is whether your divorce is uncontested or contested, which we explain below. 

It is important to note, though, that there is a broad range of outcomes even comparing within the category of contested divorces. For instance, do you and your ex-spouse have a mild disagreement on an issue, or is there a contentious child custody battle to sort out?

Thus, it is critical to understand the issues that make the divorce process more complicated, so we will explore those as well.

Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce in California

In an uncontested divorce, both spouses reach a mutual agreement on all aspects related to the divorce (e.g. alimony, child custody, child support, and property division).

On the other hand, a contested divorce occurs when the parties cannot reach an agreement on one or more divorce-related issues. It's worth noting that even if most issues are resolved, but there remains a single unresolved matter, the divorce is still considered contested.

The distinction between contested and uncontested divorces is relevant to the cost of divorce in California because uncontested divorces are generally faster, simpler, and less expensive compared to contested ones.

How much does an uncontested divorce cost in California? If both parties can collaborate to reach an agreement, the cost of an uncontested divorce in California may be limited to court costs and filing fees.

However, contested divorces encompass a wide range of scenarios. The number of unresolved issues and the intensity of disputes surrounding those issues significantly impact the overall cost of a contested divorce in California.

What makes a California divorce more complicated?

Several factors can contribute to the complexity of a divorce, including:

  1. Children: Divorces involving minor children introduce additional complexity as issues such as child custody and child support need to be resolved. As noted, a child custody battle can greatly add to costs.
  2. Spousal Support: Not all divorces involve spousal support (commonly called alimony). For those that do, it is one more issue to sort through and potentially fight over.
  3. Substantial Marital Assets: When the marital estate is significant, the stakes are higher, and property division becomes more complex.
  4. Complicated Marital Assets: Complex assets, such as ownership interests in companies or partnerships, may require appraisals and pose challenges in division compared to a simple marital estate.

In general, these factors contribute to a more complicated divorce process and, consequently, can increase the overall cost of divorce in California. 

Another factor that affects total divorce costs in CA is the level of contention in your divorce and your ability to work amicably with your ex-spouse to avoid protracted court battles.

Contentious Divorces Are More Expensive

As we’ve covered, divorce costs in CA are influenced by numerous competing factors. But generally speaking, the more adversarial a divorce is, the more expensive it will be.

Not all contested divorces are created equal. Sometimes which issues remain unresolved, or how many issues remain unresolved, is less important than how contentious those issues are. 

Taking a collaborative approach with your ex-spouse can greatly minimize the time and cost involved in the process. Engaging in divorce mediation and exploring other collaborative divorce processes can effectively reduce lawyer fees and overall court costs.

While achieving a completely amicable resolution may not always be possible, making a genuine effort to find common ground and working cooperatively with your ex-spouse can yield substantial benefits. It not only saves you time and money but also alleviates the emotional strain that is already inherent in the divorce process.

While it may require effort and cooperation from both parties involved, embracing a collaborative mindset can foster a more constructive environment and streamline the divorce process. By minimizing conflicts and focusing on finding common ground, you can achieve a more cost-effective and amicable resolution, ultimately benefiting both parties involved in the divorce.

Lower-Cost Divorce Options in California

money, coin, investment

If you're concerned about the cost of divorce in California, there are resources available to help reduce legal expenses. These resources provide legal assistance for specific aspects of your case without having to pay for full representation by a divorce lawyer. 

For instance, limited-scope representation allows a divorce attorney to assist with particular aspects of your divorce case, such as reviewing your divorce agreement or attending mediation with you. 

Additionally, Legal Aid organizations offer free or low-cost services based on income eligibility. The California Courts website and organizations like provide information on available resources. 

In terms of court costs, remember that fee waivers may be available for those unable to afford filing fees.

FAQs About Divorce in CA Cost

How much is a divorce in CA if both parties agree?

In situations where both parties in a California divorce can reach a mutual agreement, the cost of the divorce is typically much lower compared to contested cases. 

An uncontested divorce offers a streamlined and cost-effective process. In such instances, the primary expenses of an uncontested divorce in California are generally court costs and filing fees, which can vary based on the county and specific circumstances of the case. 

Without attorneys' fees, the costs for an uncontested divorce could be under $1,000, including the $435 divorce filing fee. 

However, if legal representation is involved, even an uncontested divorce in California could still amount to thousands of dollars, depending on the complexity of reaching an agreement and submitting it to the court.

How long does a divorce take in California?

How long a divorce takes in California can vary based on several factors. 

Generally, uncontested divorces where both parties agree can be finalized relatively quickly, often within a few months. Conversely, contested divorces involving disputes and court involvement can extend for a year or even longer. 

The complexity of the issues, court schedules, and the level of cooperation between the parties all play a role in determining the timeline for a divorce in California. It is also crucial to properly fill out all divorce papers you file with the court clerk. The divorce process can be delayed due to improper or incomplete paperwork.

The Final Word on the Cost of Divorce in California

So, how much is a divorce in California? Let’s recap what you need to know.

The average cost of a divorce in California is approximately $17,500 without children and $26,300 with children, but individual cases can be more or less expensive than these averages. Factors such as filing fees, court costs, attorneys' fees, the complexity of your divorce, and the level of contention can all impact the total cost of divorce in CA.

There are lower-cost resources available for those concerned about the cost of hiring a California divorce attorney. Limited-scope representation and seeking assistance from Legal Aid are options that provide more affordable alternatives. 

For those that can afford a lawyer, an experienced family law attorney can be an invaluable resource. If you have additional questions or concerns about the cost of divorce in California, consider talking to an experienced divorce attorney today. And if you do, ask these essential questions during the initial consultation to determine if the lawyer is the right fit for your needs.