It depends on how well parties can agree on how to divide assets, debts, co-parent the children, and whether and how much one party will receive ongoing financial support from the other.
Parties can choose several routes through the divorce process: Do it yourselves (“DIY”), Support from attorneys, Mediation, Contested divorce.
At a minimum, a divorce will cost $220 to pay the filing fee (unless you need an indigency waiver).
If you have marital assets, you may incur costs to sell and/or refinance your real estate or to divide retirement assets pursuant to a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO,” for short). You can expect to pay about $600-$1,200 for a QDRO.
If you and your partner can work out all of the details of the divorce, you can fill out the paperwork on your own and even write your own Separation Agreement.
The Massachusetts Family Court Website is an excellent resource for all the forms you need. The Separation Agreement, however, is the most fluid, and important, document in your divorce. It determines how the assets and debts are divided, the amount of support, and the parenting plan for the minor children.
A word of caution: Not having your Separation Agreement reviewed by an attorney will save you money today, but it may cost you attorney fees in the future or cost you assets that you’re entitled to in the divorce.
Support from Attorneys:
If you have children under the age of 18, assets to split, or debts to divide, I suggest you work with an attorney to draft and review your Separation Agreement. I offer a DIY (“do it yourself”) package where I do just that for clients. But it’s up to the client to negotiate the terms with their spouse. See the details here.
Each party should have their own attorney, to advise them of their rights and responsibilities in the divorce. When you go to court to have the divorce finalized, the judge will ask you if you spoke with an attorney. If there is anything out of the ordinary in your agreement, the judge may reject your agreement and instruct you to go to an attorney to draft a certain change that will make the Separation Agreement acceptable.
Most divorce lawyers charge an hourly rate, from $200 to $600 an hour — and higher. The more contentious the case, the more you will pay your attorney. It’s important to evaluate whether it’s worth paying your attorney $300 an hour to fight over a $500 television is actually worth the expense.
There are many reasons why mediation is an excellent option, which I don’t get into here. But if you want to read more of my thoughts on it, go to this article.
Mediators, like lawyers, charge hourly rates from $200 – $500. Some have flat rates. I charge $500 for each 2-hour session and $200/hour for any follow-up necessary outside the mediation session. (my fees are here). Expect to go to 2 – 4 mediation sessions of 2 hours each, before reaching a final agreement. Back of the envelope math puts that at $800 – $4,000 for the mediator.
Plus, don’t forget to review the final agreement with your own attorney. It may be as simple as a consultation or require some back and forth negotiation, so the cost there can range from $250 – $1,000 (depending of course on how much time you need to finalize the agreement).
This is the process many people think of, when they think of divorce. I go through the process in detail here. Suffice to say, there are minimum requirements for attorneys when representing clients in contested divorces. At the very least, they will have to file the pleadings, attend a 4-way meeting between all parties and attorneys, attend a Pre-Trial Conference, and come up with a Separation Agreement. For that reason, when there is a contested divorce with minor children, I require a $10,000 retainer. With no minor children, I require $5,000.
Here are some of the costs associated with a contested divorce:
- Drafting motions for temporary orders
- Drafting Financial Statements
- Attendance at a motion hearing (typically 4-8 hours)
- Providing and seeking discovery
- Deposing the other party or attending a client’s deposition (typically 4-6 hours)
- Conducting a 4-way meeting with opposing party and counsel
- Drafting a Pre-Trial Memo and Attending a Pre-Trial Conference (typically 6-10 hours)
There are little ways that clients can save money — by organizing their discovery documents or doing a first draft of their financial statements, for example. But there are other aspects of the process that are out of my control, or my client’s control — namely, the time spent in court. A typical day in court involves hours of waiting for your case to be called.
There are so many factors that influence how much a divorce costs. I want you to know that you are somewhat in control of those costs, starting with your choice of process. Consulting with an attorney has the emotional benefits of allowing you to understand your rights and responsibilities, so you can have peace of mind in your choice of process and all the little choices along the way.