How Much Will My Divorce Cost?

Learn more about typical divorce costs, including hourly rates for divorce lawyers and what people spend to get a DIY or online divorce.

By , Legal Editor
Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If you're thinking about ending your marriage, you probably want to know how much the divorce process will cost. Your total bill will vary based on your circumstances, but the most important factors affecting costs are whether you hire a lawyer, how many disputes you have with your spouse about the important issues in your divorce, and how quickly you can work out disagreements.

How Much Divorce Costs With a Lawyer

Many people getting a divorce hire a lawyer to handle their case. When that's true, their biggest divorce expense is the lawyer's bill. The total amount of the bill depends on your lawyer's hourly rate and the number of hours your lawyer spends on your case.

Hourly Rates for Divorce Lawyers

In 2019, we surveyed our readers who had recently been through a divorce. We also reviewed information reported by divorce lawyers across the country about their fees and billing practices. The divorce lawyers in our study reported an average rate of $270 an hour, but individual rates varied a lot. Nearly 7 in 10 people (69%) paid between $200 and $300 an hour, while 1 in 10 (11%) paid $100 per hour, and 2 in 10 (20%) paid $400 or more.

Average hourly rates are likely to be higher now. According to Clio, a legal technology company, the average hourly rate for a family law attorney practicing in 2023 is $312.

Many factors affect how much any individual attorney will charge per hour, especially:

  • Location. Family law attorneys in states like California and New York usually charge higher rates than those in smaller states like West Virginia and North Dakota. And attorneys who practice in big cities with a high cost of living tend to charge more than their suburban and rural counterparts.
  • Firm size. Lawyers in large, prestigious firms typically charge more than lawyers at smaller firms and solo practitioners.
  • Expertise in family law. Lawyers with many years of experience in family law usually charge more per hour than average, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll end up with a higher bill. Experienced lawyers might charge more per hour, but require fewer hours overall to resolve your divorce.

Total Cost of a Divorce Lawyer

Of course, a lawyer's hourly rate won't tell you how many hours will go into the final bill. In our 2019 survey, people who hired a full-scope divorce lawyer—meaning the attorney handled everything in the case, from start to finish—paid an average of $11,300 in attorneys' fees.

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 learn what costs were more typical for those who hired divorce lawyers, 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 for attorneys' fees was $7,000. It may also help to know that more than 4 in 10 people in our survey (42%) paid $5,000 or less in attorneys' fees.

Other Expenses for Divorce With a Lawyer

When you hire a divorce lawyer, the lawyer's fees will be your biggest expense. But there are other expenses as well. You'll have to pay fees to file your divorce paperwork, which vary from state to state, but typically range from about $100 to over $400. Depending on the issues involved in your divorce, you might also have to pay fees for child custody evaluators, real estate appraisers, tax advisors, and other experts.

The people in our 2019 survey who were represented by divorce lawyers reported paying an average of $1,480 for these other costs. The more typical median for these expenses was $500.

How Disputes and Trial Affect the Cost of Divorce

To dig deeper into what can make the total bill for attorneys' fees and other costs higher in some divorces, our survey asked people about the contested issues in their divorces—such as disagreements over child custody, child support, alimony, and dividing their property and debts.

The exact nature of the disagreements made very little difference in average costs. Instead, the real driver of increased divorce costs was the number of contested issues and whether couples had to go to trial to resolve those issues—as opposed to resolving them through an out-of-court settlement. For instance:

  • For those who hired lawyers but had an uncontested divorce (meaning that they agreed on all of the major issues discussed above), average total costs including attorneys' fees were $4,100.
  • For those who had disputes at the start of the divorce process but—with the help of their lawyers—ultimately settled all of those issues without going to trial, average total costs were $10,600.
  • Average total costs jumped to $20,400 for those who went to trial on at least one contested issue and $23,300 if they had a trial on two or more issues.

The Cost of Divorce Without Lawyers

If you and your spouse can go through the divorce process on your own, it will be far less expensive than hiring a full-scope attorney. In our 2019 survey, people who handled their divorce without hiring a lawyer had an average of $925 in costs, not including the cost of mediation. More typical, however, was the median cost of $300. Let's look at what went into those expenses.

Divorce Filing Fees and Other Expenses

When you file for divorce, the court will charge a filing fee. And if your spouse is the one who files the initial divorce petition, you will still likely have to pay a fee to file your answer to the petition.

Filing fees for divorce petitions vary from state to state—and from county to county in certain states—ranging from about $100 to over $400. In some places, fees are lower when you don't have minor children, or when you meet other qualifications for simplified divorce procedures. If you can't afford the filing fees where you live, you can usually apply for a fee waiver from the court.

You might also have to pay a fee to serve your spouse with the divorce papers, file other documents in your case, and get a certified copy of the final divorce decree.

For people who pursue a contested divorce without hiring a lawyer, there may also be additional expenses for evaluations and property appraisals. (For example, a judge might require a custody evaluation when a couple hasn't been able to agree on a parenting plan or a real estate appraiser to assess the value of the marital home.)

The Cost of Online Divorce Services

If you and your spouse are representing yourselves in an uncontested divorce, you might want to consider an online divorce. An online divorce service guides you through the paperwork you need for your situation and then tells you how to file it. Some services even file the forms for you at an additional cost. The cost of online divorce services varies, but it's typically in the $150 to $750 range.

The Cost of Divorce Mediation

More and more divorcing couples are turning to mediation as a way to save money—as well as reduce the conflict and stress of divorce. You can use divorce mediation in a wide range of circumstances. For example:

  • If you want to proceed with an uncontested divorce but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about one or more issues, you can turn to a mediator before you file the divorce papers.
  • Some states require mediation when couples have filed for divorce but haven't come to an agreement about certain issues—especially child custody.
  • You could also choose to get help from a mediator at any point during the divorce process—even if you and your spouse have lawyers—to work out a settlement agreement.

Like the overall cost of divorce itself, the cost of divorce mediation can vary widely, depending on the circumstances of your case and whether you use private mediation or court-sponsored mediation. According to ADR Times, as of 2023, the typical cost of private divorce mediation ranges from $3,000 to $10,000—but you'll usually split that total bill with your spouse.

Most court-sponsored mediation services are free, low cost, or on a sliding scale based on your income. However, these programs typically only cover mediation of disputes related to child custody.

More Information and Resources on Divorce

Divorce can be expensive and time-consuming—all the more so if your situation involves significant conflict. If it does, hiring a divorce lawyer could be your best route.

But not everyone needs a lawyer for their divorce. Other options include handling it yourself, using an online service, and going to mediation (with or without a lawyer). For help choosing your path, you can check out DivorceNet's quiz.

And here are more resources on divorce:

  • State and local bar associations. The "bar" is a professional organization of lawyers. Bar associations in your community and state can refer you to family law attorneys in your area. You can also ask friends, family members, and colleagues for referrals to attorneys they know and trust.
  • State and county family courts in your area. Most courts offer self-help resources, such as divorce-related forms and instructions, for people who are divorcing without lawyers.
  • Therapist Locator: Divorce is draining—financially and emotionally. If you are experiencing distress, a marriage and family therapist (MFT) can help. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy can help you connect with a therapist in your area.

The survey results mentioned in this article came from Martindale-Nolo Research's 2019 divorce survey, which analyzed responses from readers who had recently gone through a divorce and had voluntarily provided their email when they researched hiring a lawyer. All collected data is kept confidential and complies with Nolo's privacy policy. Nolo carefully examined and analyzed the data using sound statistical methods. The Nolo survey project aims to promote transparency and clarity about the legal process.

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