The Average Cost of Divorce and What I Can Do to Lower My Cost

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Choosing an attorney can be a stressful and difficult decision. How can you be sure attorney is the right one for your needs? In terms of case itself, how much is the case going to cost? What is fair and reasonable to expect? The issue of cost is one of the most common questions people on the cusp of a divorce ask.

Today, it can cost as much to get unmarried as it does to get married. The ballpark figure for the average cost of divorce in the US is anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000. High profile divorces can cost upward in the millions. Those who have been through divorce will invariably say it’s expensive no matter where you are on the financial spectrum. But considering your future is at stake--namely,
your family and your financial assets and property--paying for an attorney is well worth the cost and can pay off in the long run.

Hiring a good attorney, while it may cost more upfront, it can actually save money later by helping the legal process to run smoother which equates to time saved and consequently, lower legal bills. But most importantly, you’re paying an experienced attorney to come up with the legal strategy to get you the best possible settlement. And that settlement can affect you for years to come.

So, how much does the average divorce cost? The answer is not simple, because each case is unique and the variables are plenty. Depending on your case and the issues involved – child custody and support, property division including retirement accounts, maintenance (or alimony), business and outside interests, etc – all play a part in the cost of divorce.

What are some of the costs?

Here are a few of the fees and costs divorcing couples can expect to pay:

• Attorney's fees –In Missouri, contested divorces are the costliest. Most attorneys require a retainer that may range from $500 to $25,000, according to the article cited below, with the average around $3,500. But remember, these are just general figures and will vary depending on the location of the attorney, the experience of the attorney, and the complexity of your divorce; whether there is a business or other valuable assets involved. Attorneys will bill against that retainer at an average hourly rate of $200 on upward, depending upon the reputation and success rate of your lawyer. If your divorce is uncontested, it will cost significantly less. Consult with your attorney first to get an actual figure. Some initial consults in a divorce commonly include:

• Court costs and service fees;
• Fees for early neutral evaluations; and
• Mediation costs.

Should you have real estate involved, you can also expect to pay:

• Refinancing costs;
• Recording deed fees; and
• Added hourly attorney's fees.

Should you have a business involved, you may also pay:

• Cost of a business valuation; and
• CPA and other professional fees.

Should you have children involved, you may also pay:

• Costs of parent education classes; and
• Cost of a guardian ad litem, if required.

Can I lower these costs? Yes. Below are some potential ways:

1. Know the financial details of your divorce: Make copies of the last 5 years tax returns, bank statements, brokerage statements, retirement fund statements, home and business ownership documents, insurance policies, wills, trusts and any other financial document that may play a role in your divorce settlement. Do a lot of “leg work” for your attorney, if possible.

2. Know what you're agreeing to: The real cost of divorce can come from not understanding the financial consequences of a settlement. "Hidden taxes, under-performing investments, depreciating assets and a budget that cannot withstand the pressures of inflation will cause people to literally go bankrupt as a result of divorce," says Rosemary Frank. "The cost of an attorney, or court costs, pale by comparison."

3. Know the general approaches to divorce: Check into mediation, collaborative, cooperative, as well as litigation to find the best approach for your case and the most cost-effective from all angles.

4. Act fast: The number one factor for cost in a divorce is how long the case lasts. Coming to agreements and keeping down the fighting helps.

5. Play nice: Try to be amicable and work out as much as you can on your own. This helps the divorce to move more quickly and accordingly lowers your attorney fees.

6. Sign a Pre-nuptial Agreement: While this may be “spilt milk” and you may not be able to go back in time and get a pre-nuptial agreement, it is still the best way to keep costs down when it comes to divorce.

It is in your best interest to hire an experienced family law attorney to make sure that your rights and assets are protected, but how you manage the process and the approach you take can help reduce legal costs as well as increase your financial settlement.

Source: How Much Does the Average Divorce Really Cost? Laura Seldon for GalTime, Huffington Post

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kirk C. Stange, Esq.
Kirk C. Stange, Esq. is a Managing Partner at Stange Law Firm, PC, which is a family law firm in the St. Louis Metro Area in Missouri and Illinois. (The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.)

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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