When couples start thinking about divorce, one of the first questions they have is: How much will a divorce cost? Attorney fees range widely and the total cost of your divorce will depend on numerous factors, such as where you live, whom you hire, whether your spouse is combative or collegial, how many issues you’ll need to resolve — and the list goes on. It’s a similar story if you try to find out how long your divorce might take.
Nolo is in a unique position to gather information about what actually happens in divorce cases across the country. Thousands of people visit nolo.com and other Nolo sites every day, seeking legal information about divorce and looking to connect with divorce attorneys. We contacted people that visited our sites over the past few years, asking them to voluntarily participate in a survey about their divorce cases. The survey asked respondents about a number of things, including:
- how much their divorce attorney charged per hour
- how much their divorce cost
- the number of issues that they resolved out of court and in court
- whether their spouse contested the case
- how long the divorce took from start to finish
- their level of satisfaction with the outcome of the divorce
The initial responses provide useful information on issues related to the divorce process.
Typical Hourly Rate for Divorce Attorneys
Although most people would prefer to have an attorney by their side when going through a divorce, many also worry about how much this will cost. Even if you’ve called around or visited the websites of various divorce attorneys, you may still wonder if a lawyer is charging too much, or even too little (this can be an indication that the lawyer doesn’t have enough experience or is desperate for clients).
Here’s what we found. Nationwide, the typical fee that people paid their divorce attorneys was $250 per hour. Click the image for a larger version.
The $250 hourly number was consistent for attorneys who provided various types of assistance in a divorce case:
- full representation: the attorney handled every issue in the case
- limited scope or partial representation: the attorney managed only some aspects of the case, for example, handled alimony and child custody issues but not division of property
- consultation only: the attorney provided advice or prepared documents on an as-needed basis, but did not represent the client
A few people reported that they paid their attorney as little as $50 per hour, and a few reported paying as much as $400 to $650 per hour. But the vast majority paid between $150 and $350 per hour, with $250 being the most commonly reported fee.
The Average Total Cost of Divorce
When all is said and done, what did the average person pay, in total, to get divorced? This figure includes total attorney’s fees, court costs, and other costs such as hiring a real estate appraiser, tax advisor, child custody evaluator, or another expert.
Most of our consumers reported paying a total of around $15,500 for their divorces, including $12,800 in attorney's fees (for all types of attorney representation, including limited-scope representation, consulting only, collaborative law, and full-scope representation — where the attorney handles all aspects of the divorce).
The survey also asked respondents to pinpoint whether they resolved certain legal issues out of court or through trial. Those issues included:
- child custody
- child support
- alimony or spousal support
- the division of property
- the division of debts
- attorney’s fees
- claims for reimbursement
- claims for breach of fiduciary duty
Not surprisingly, the more issues that went to trial, the more the divorce cost. The consumers who went to trial on any issue in their case reported spending an average of $19,600 in costs, including $15,800 for attorney's fees. In contrast, costs went down for those who were able to settle their cases; consumers who settled all of their issues reported spending an average of $14,500, including $12,200 on attorney's fees.
How Long Does the Average Divorce Case Take?
Another pressing question among people deciding to divorce: How long will it take? According to the results from our survey, the average time it took to complete a divorce — from filing the petition to getting their settlement or the final court judgment — was about 11 months. Cases that went to trial on any issue took an average of 17.6 months to resolve, while the consumers who settled their issues were able to resolve their cases in 9 months.
The results also indicate that letting a judge resolve divorce issues doesn’t lead to happier customers; as the number of issues resolved at trial increased, the overall satisfaction with the process decreased. There may be a number of reasons for this. The longer your case drags on and the more squabbling that occurs, the more unhappy you are likely to be. Keep in mind too, that folks who are naturally litigious might also be less satisfied with any result, no matter what it is. And of course, the more issues you have to resolve through trial, the more you’ll pay your attorney — not a recipe for overall satisfaction.
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