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How much does a divorce lawyer cost?

How much does a divorce lawyer cost? We’ll explain how divorce lawyers charge for their services and what factors will affect your total fees.

evident Editorial Team
December 6, 2023
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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. If you’re wondering “how much does a divorce cost?” we lay it out for you in this article.

Key Takeaways

How much does a divorce lawyer cost?

While there are some low-cost options available for situations like an uncontested divorce, let’s cover the costs of hiring a top divorce lawyer.

Here’s the short answer: the cost of hiring a divorce lawyer 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 the divorce process.

Step one is understanding how your divorce lawyer will charge you. Step two is understanding what factors influence the overall legal costs of your divorce.

So let's dig deeper into understanding how much a divorce lawyers costs.

Step 1 - Understanding how divorce lawyers charge for their services

Many divorce lawyers charge hourly rates for their time, though flat fees and other alternative 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 divorce attorney 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 attorney actually spends working on your case. But it can be difficult to know how much time your divorce lawyer will spend on your case up-front, and therefore how much you will end up owing in attorney 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 rates for divorce lawyers 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 legal fees

Your divorce lawyer's total legal fees, and therefore how much a divorce costs, 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 a settlement agreement and formalize your divorce.

If you and your spouse cannot agree and have each hired divorce lawyers, 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 (also called spousal support or spousal maintenance depending on the state)
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Property division
  • Assignment of debts

So, how much a divorce costs 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 child custody issues.

Also, keep in mind that your divorce does not have to proceed between two binary options - uncontested divorce 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. Divorce mediation and collaborative divorce processes can help keep court fees, filing fees, and especially attorneys' fees from stacking up.

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.

To the extent you are able to reach agreements with your spouse, though, the easier the process will be.

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Lower-cost options for legal help with your divorce

There are lower-cost options available that may be suitable alternatives to hiring a divorce lawyer for full-fledged representation.

For instance, if you only need help on a specific aspect of the legal process, limited scope representation may be an option. Agreements for limited scope representation specifically limit what the divorce lawyer will assist you with (such as just reviewing your divorce agreement or attending divorce mediation with you).

Meanwhile, if you do need a full scope 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.

What is the cheapest way of getting a divorce? 

divorce lawyer cost

Generally, the cheapest way to get divorced is to file a no-fault uncontested divorce. This is because fault divorces are typically more expensive than no-fault divorces, and contested divorces are almost always more expensive than uncontested divorces. 

And the less complicated your divorce is, the more likely you will be able to leverage online divorce services or to get divorced without a lawyer. 

That said, you may not be able to control whether you must file for a contested or an uncontested divorce. Generally, though, the more collaborative your divorce is, the cheaper it will be.

And the options noted above can be useful if you are not in a position to hire a divorce lawyer for full freight representation.

The final word on divorce lawyer costs

So, how much does a divorce lawyer cost?

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 divorce process.

In terms of how you will be charged, most divorce lawyers charge either hourly rates or flat fees. Your total legal 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, because understanding how much lawyers charge for divorce is important but only one piece of the puzzle.