If you're facing the end of your marriage, you have a lot of concerns. One of your questions is likely to be: How much will a divorce cost? The answer to that question will depend on many different things, including whether you hire a lawyer (and if so, how much that lawyer charges), whether your spouse is combative or collegial, whether you have children at home, how much property and debt you have to divide between you, whether one of you is requesting alimony—and the list goes on. It's a similar story if you want to know 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 who had visited our sites over the past few years (and provided their emails when researching lawyers), asking them to participate voluntarily in a survey about their divorce cases.
See All Our Survey Results
This article summarizes the highlights of our divorce survey. See our legal costs and outcomes page to learn more about the results of this and other surveys we've conducted on a wide range of legal issues, including personal injury claims, bankruptcy, DUI cases, workers' compensation, wrongful termination, and Social Security disability.
The divorce survey asked readers about a number of things, including:
Here's what we learned from their answers.
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 (which could be an indication that the lawyer doesn't have enough experience or is desperate for clients).
Nationwide, the readers in our survey reported paying their attorneys an average of $270 per hour. However, individual rates varied a lot. Although nearly seven in ten readers (69%) paid between $200 and $300 an hour, about one in ten (11%) paid $100 per hour, and two in ten (20%) paid $400 or more. Our separate study on hourly rates reported by family lawyers across the U.S. showed significant regional differences, with the highest rates reported by attorneys in coastal metropolitan areas. The same study also showed that rates were higher for more experienced attorneys—no big surprise there—and that about half of family law attorneys offer free consultations for potential new clients.
When all was said and done, what did the average person pay, in total, to get divorced? For readers who hired a full-scope divorce lawyer—meaning that the attorney handled everything in the case, from start to finish—the average total costs were $12,900. That included $11,300 in attorneys' fees and about $1,600 in expenses such as court costs and fees for child custody evaluators, real estate appraisers, tax advisors, and other experts.
If those results give you sticker shock, it may help to remember that a few people with very high costs can skew the average. To find out what more typical readers paid, we also looked at the median—the middle of the range, where half paid less and half paid more. In our survey, the median total divorce cost was $7,500, including $7,000 in lawyers' fees and $500 in other expenses. It may also help to know that more than four in 10 readers (42%) paid $5,000 or less in attorneys' fees.
In order to dig deeper into what makes some divorces cost more than others, we asked readers about the contested issues in their divorces—such as disagreements over child custody, child support, alimony, and the division of their property and debts—and whether they resolved those issues through an out-of-court settlement or only after a trial. The results showed that going to trial can double divorce costs. Average total costs were $10,600 (including attorneys' fees) for readers who reached a comprehensive settlement on any disputes in their divorce. Those average costs jumped to $20,379 for those who went to trial on at least one issue and $23,300 if they had a trial on two or more issues.
Another pressing question about divorce is how long the process takes, from filing the petition to a settlement or final court judgment. In our survey, the overall average duration of divorce was a year. Here again, the picture was worse for those who went to trial. For readers who went to trial on at least one issue, it took an average of 18 months to complete the process—and even longer if they had to resolve two or more issues.
Beyond doing everything you can to avoid a trial, our survey results pointed to some other possibilities for lowering the cost of divorce.