How much does a divorce lawyer cost?

If you are considering whether to hire a divorce lawyer, it is important to understand both how your attorney will charge you and what factors will impact your total legal fees.

evident Editorial Team
September 1, 2021
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Getting divorced is a stressful experience even under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, it is often easier to tie the knot than it is to untie it.

And one reason divorces can be stressful is because they can get expensive. But the costs involved will vary greatly depending on certain factors. If you are considering whether to hire a divorce lawyer, then you’ll want to understand what those factors are. This can give you a sense of what to expect and help reduce some of the stress involved during a challenging time.

Step one is understanding how your divorce lawyer will charge you. Step two is understanding what factors influence the overall legal cost of your divorce. So let's dig deeper into understanding how much divorce lawyers cost.

Key Takeaways

Step 1 - Understanding how you will be charged

Many divorce lawyers charge hourly rates for their time, though flat fee arrangements are also possible. Some divorce lawyers may also require an up-front retainer, which is essentially a down payment for legal fees and expenses.

If a lawyer charges an hourly rate, you will be billed for the amount of time they spend working on your case. Flat fee arrangements, on the other hand, are when a lawyer takes your case for a fixed fee, regardless of how much time they spend working on your case.

There are pros and cons to both arrangements. Under hourly billing, the benefit is that you only pay for the time that your divorce lawyer actually spends working on your case. But it can be difficult to know much time your divorce lawyer will spend on your case up-front, and therefore how much you will end up owing in total legal fees.

Meanwhile, under a flat fee arrangement, a key benefit is knowing exactly what your legal fees will be. But it’s possible that you could spend more money this way if your divorce ends up being less complicated or contentious than expected.

There are pros and cons to the different billing methods

Hourly divorce lawyer rates vary depending on the attorney’s level of experience, your location, and the market rates where you live. These same elements can also impact the amount in a flat fee agreement.

Step 2 - Understanding what factors affect your total fees

Your total legal fees will depend on several factors and may be hard to predict accurately. Two of those primary factors are how contentious and how complicated your divorce is. Generally speaking, the more contentious or the more complicated your divorce is, the more expensive it will be.

At one end of the spectrum are uncontested divorces, which are generally less expensive than contested divorces. And this makes sense - if you and your spouse are able to reach an agreement, then it will be much easier (and much less expensive) to formalize your divorce.

If you and your spouse cannot agree, however, much still depends on which issues need to be resolved. The types of things spouses might have to sort through during a divorce include:

  • Alimony
  • Child custody
  • Division of property
  • Assignment of debts

So, much depends on what you and your spouse have to sort through, and how contentious those issues are. For instance, your divorce should be less complicated (and less expensive) if you have only been married a year and have limited marital property as compared to a long marriage with substantial marital property or debts. Likewise, contentious child custody battles make for more complicated divorces than marriages without custody issues.

Also, keep in mind that your divorce does not have to proceed between two binary options - uncontested or scorched earth. Even if you are not able to agree on every last detail (as is required for an uncontested divorce), the more you and your spouse are able to resolve these issues amicably, the more time, money, and headache you will be able to save yourselves.

Obviously, this is not possible in every divorce - you and your spouse are splitting up for a reason after all. And some things are worth fighting for. But to the extent you are able to reach agreements with your spouse, the easier the process will be.

Lower-cost options

There are lower-cost options available that may be suitable alternatives to full-fledged representation. For instance, if you only need help on a specific aspect of your divorce, limited scope representation may be an option. Agreements for limited scope representation specifically limit what the lawyer will assist you with (such as just reviewing your divorce agreement or attending mediation with you).

Meanwhile, if you do need a full-time divorce lawyer but are not able to afford one, there are other resources available to you as well. You may qualify for Legal Aid and should contact a Legal Aid office near you. You also might be able to get a lawyer to take your case pro bono (for free) and should reach out to your state’s bar association for referrals.

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The final word on divorce lawyer costs

Going through a divorce is a stressful experience. You may not be able to know exactly how much your legal fees will be at the outset, but understanding how you will be charged and what factors will impact your final bill can help you eliminate some of the stress and mystery from the process.

In terms of how you will be charged, most divorce lawyers charge either hourly rates or flat fees. Your total fees, in turn, will depend on several factors including how contentious and how complicated your divorce is.

And finally, keep in mind that there are also lower-cost options available such as limited scope representation or Legal Aid.

If you plan on speaking with a divorce lawyer, check out our article on what questions you should ask in your initial conversations. This will help you evaluate your options, as understanding how much lawyers charge for divorce is important but only one piece of the puzzle.