There is no exact answer to the question of how much a divorce will cost. There are a lot of moving parts for every divorce and every situation is different. Ask a lawyer and most will give a range of $5,000 to $50,000 or more.
According to Findlaw, the average cost of a divorce in Massachusetts is $12,000+.
No matter your individual situation though, you should be able to get a rough estimate based on some of the factors that influence the cost of a divorce and apply those to your situation.
Basic divorce costs
Every divorce will include the following, whether it is contested or uncontested:
- drafting and filing a Complaint for Divorce (contested) or a Joint Petition for Divorce (uncontested)
- preparation of a financial statement disclosing all assets (house, car, bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc.) and expenses (mortgage/rent payments, food, child care and everything else you spend each month)
- filing fee of $220 (contested) or $215 (uncontested), plus ~$25 electronic filing fee
- service on the other party by a constable or sheriff, which usually costs somewhere between $50 - $150 (contested divorces only)
- Mandatory discovery and disclosures (documents you are required to provide the other party, like 3 years of bank statements, tax returns, investment and retirement accounts
- At least one court hearing
Things that increase the cost and level of effort for a divorce
- Conflict. The single biggest cost factor in a divorce is the level of conflict between the spouses. This can change over time through the divorce process, but in general, if you are at odds over every issue, it will be a long and costly process. You need to keep in mind what you are arguing over and whether it is worth spending $100,000 to get part of a retirement account worth $50,000. That may seem shocking, but it happens. We have had clients come to us after spending $100,000+ with other attorneys and we are able to complete the divorce for around $10,000. And these aren't millionaires, these are middle-class people that take on significant debt and have very little to show for it. Nobody wins when that happens.
- Children. If you have children, any separation agreement (which I argue should be called a divorce agreement) needs to include a lot of details about how the children will be taken care of, including:
- Property. If you own a home, it will need to be divided somehow. There are many ways to handle this and sometimes you can be creative with how this is done, but usually one parent 'buys out' the other parent by refinancing the home or the property is sold and the proceeds are divided. Sound easy? Nope. This is often one of the most difficult to navigate. If you own more than one property, it is actually sometimes easier, but not always.
- Businesses. If you own a business, either on your own or with your spouse, your spouse may be entitled to some portion of the value of the business. Having the business valued usually requires hiring an expert, and then once a value is established that value can be divided.
- Pensions. If you or your spouse have a pension, it will usually need to be valued by an expert. It usually isn't as easy as checking the statement balance because the value of all the future years of payments in retirement needs to be factored in.
- Lawyers. Some people don't need lawyers to get divorced, we sometimes tell people that they should save the money and do it themselves. But others try to save a little money and shop for the lowest hourly rate without taking into consideration that the hourly rate doesn't really matter if they bill you for every second of the time they spend on your case or end up dragging things out (even unintentionally). I'm not saying lawyers pad their bills or overcharge for their time, I just don't think hourly billing makes sense. It doesn't have any correlation to the outcome, so there is no incentive for an attorney to be efficient if you are paying for all their time anyway. Important note though - the most expensive divorce is usually a high-conflict divorce with attorneys billing hourly on each side.
- Trials. Trials are very expensive. They require a ton of preparation, often 1 - 2 days of preparation for each day of trial. This is only one of the reasons why more than 90% of divorce cases in Massachusetts end with an agreement and not a trial.
This list could go on, but hopefully, that gives you some things to consider when estimating the cost of a divorce. If you want to discuss how our flat fees work and why our clients don't have the nightmare scenarios discussed above, please reach out to schedule a free consultation.