Legally referred to as dissolution of marriage in many states, a divorce is the termination of a marriage by a legal proceeding or in a court. Divorces are generally categorized as contested or uncontested. In a contested divorce, the parties cannot agree on at least one issue, while in an uncontested divorce, the parties agree to all terms. A legal separation, which many states still offer, only terminates the right of cohabitation, but not the legal status of the marriage itself.
Filing for Divorce
After retaining an experienced divorce attorney, the spouse seeking divorce prepares a petition for divorce and files it with the court in the state in which he or she lives. Each state has its own residency requirement for how long a spouse must live within the state before being eligible to file for divorce. See our article on filing divorce papers for links to each state’s forms.
Grounds for Divorce
Each state has its own statutory grounds for divorce. Grounds are typically classified as fault or no-fault. Some states offer both as available grounds, while other states have done away with fault divorces altogether; New York is the only state that still does not offer a no-fault divorce option.
• Fault: A fault divorce requires particular wrongdoing by one of the spouses, followed by evidentiary proceedings to prove the wrongdoing. Each state defines via statute what grounds can constitute a basis for finding fault in that state. Common grounds include adultery, extended imprisonment, or cruel treatment or abuse.
• No-Fault: In a no-fault divorce, neither party must prove the other engaged in wrongdoing. A spouse can be granted a no-fault divorce based merely on the marriage being irretrievably broken or the parties having irreconcilable differences.
What is a Divorce Lawyer?
Divorce lawyers are attorneys that specialize in family law. While simple divorces may not call for an experienced lawyer, many situations arise where competent representation is needed. This is especially true when there is a high level of anger and animosity preventing the couple from coming to an agreement on their own, and in cases in which there has been spousal or child abuse, substance abuse, and major property disputes.
A divorce lawyer is able to explain the process, rules, and laws involved in the client’s family law matter, and will make sure all of the necessary documents are completed and filed with the court. The laws governing divorce and other family law matters vary by state, a divorce lawyer should be sought in the jurisdiction where the divorce will be filed.
Duties of a Divorce Lawyer
The duties of a divorce lawyer vary depending on the specifics of the case. In general, however, an attorney is responsible for helping the client throughout the process, from the first meeting, to settling matters after the divorce is finalized. A divorce attorney provides:
• Advice on how to deal with marital property, bank accounts, credit cards, and other marital assets
• Assurance of the progress made concerning disputes, court proceedings, and the stages of the divorce proceeding
• Preparation and court filing of all paperwork involved, such as the summons and complaint, motions, and custody papers, as well as preparation of the final divorce and custody orders
• An intermediary to deal with conflicts during the divorce process, such as custody disputes, and arguments over property
• Representation at all court hearings
Divorce without a Lawyer
Depending on the state you live in, it might not even be necessary to hire a lawyer to facilitate your divorce. For example, in Texas, if both spouses are in full agreement about all the terms of the divorce, including child custody and child support and the division of property and debt, then a divorce can be granted without a trial. However, even in this circumstance, one of the spouses must first file an original petition for divorce with the Family Law District Court to have a divorce granted. You may wish to contract an attorney to help you file this document to ensure it is done correctly.
Other Free Divorce Resources
There are a number of other free divorce resources available to you.
• Free Divorce Worksheet: Some websites offer free online divorce worksheets by state. This worksheet will help you collect all the information you will need to hand to your lawyer to help you finalize your divorce.
• Free Personal Legal Forms: You can find free personal legal forms, including child visitation letters, online.
• Bar Associations: State and local bar associations often publish guides to commonly encountered legal situations, such as getting a divorce and writing a will. Check with your local bar association for more information.
Factors to Consider when Choosing a Divorce Attorney
When choosing a lawyer, divorcing spouses should consider each attorney’s experience, availability, track record and success. People preparing for divorce often face various concerns, from minimizing their financial losses to preserving their relationships with their kids. Amidst all of these worries, many people overlook the importance of finding the right divorce attorney. However, choosing a qualified and attentive representative is a critical first step to ensuring that the divorce goes well. Spouses who don’t know where to start should consider looking for the following qualities when selecting an attorney.
• Relevant experience: Spouses should focus on finding attorneys who primarily practice family law and have local experience. Divorce laws vary significantly by state; for example, unlike most states, Arkansas requires spouses to establish fault for the divorce or live separately for 18 months. To ensure best results, a divorce attorney should have detailed knowledge and experience with these distinct laws. As an added benefit, The Huffington Post notes that attorneys with local experience will also be more familiar with local family law judges. As a result, these attorneys are usually better equipped to prepare strategically for any necessary litigation over alimony requests, property division or child custody arrangements.
• Focus and availability: Divorcing spouses should use their initial meetings with prospective attorneys to assess how available and engaged each attorney is. Spouses may want to consider the attorney’s caseload and the level of attention that the attorney provides during the consultation. An attorney who seems distracted might not dedicate adequate attention to the case later. Spouses should also evaluate how easy reaching and communication with each attorney will be.
• Quality of assistance: An attorney’s associates and support staff often perform essential duties over the course of a divorce case. Many divorcing spouses may even work largely with these members of the firm. Therefore, before making any commitments, spouses may want to request an opportunity to meet these individuals and assess whether working with them will be feasible. Spouses also evaluate whether a divorce attorney is prepared to work with other experts who provide crucial insights during a divorce. For instance, during marital property division, the assistance of forensic accountants and business valuators might be necessary. Spouses may benefit from choosing attorneys who routinely collaborate with these professionals.
• Accuracy and honesty: According to CNBC, spouses should take note if an attorney makes guarantees or seems to simply be saying what the spouse wants to hear. Ideally, divorcing spouses should hire attorneys who can evaluate the situation accurately and honestly. To find the best representative, spouses should meet with multiple lawyers and request assessments of the case. This can help spouses determine whether any attorneys are being unrealistic or making unlikely promises.
• Success in litigation: A divorce attorney’s record of success in litigated divorce cases is also an important factor to weigh. This is true even for spouses who hope to reach a settlement outside of court, since litigation is almost always a possibility. Spouses should learn how much time an attorney dedicates to litigation and how that litigation typically ends. People who consider all of these factors should be better prepared to find the right attorney. Although making the optimal choice will require extra time, divorcing spouses should remember that the outcome of the divorce will likely have life-changing impacts. This makes finding the right representation more than worth the effort.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost?
The national average cost of divorce is about $15,000 per person. The cost includes attorneys’ fees, court costs, and the cost of hiring outside experts like a tax adviser, child custody evaluator, or real estate appraiser. The time involved is what often determines the cost. For instance, the average divorce takes between four months and 11 months. And if a trial is necessary, it can take more than a year.
What Factors Impact the Cost Of Divorce?
Just like whether to divorce or not, the average cost is not an easy question to answer. The costs depend on a variety of factors – whether or not you or your spouse agree on specific things, and if you or your spouse require or want to use an attorney. Factors affecting the average cost include:
• If the divorce is contested or uncontested
• The hourly rate of lawyers versus a retainer fee
• Location where the divorce is being filed, and the local filing fees
• Child custody
• Child custody evaluation
What if the Agreement is Mutual?
The more factors or issues unresolved by the person filing for divorce and the other party, such as custody or care of children or maintenance of property, or other shared assets such as investments, pensions, financial support, the more likely it is to cost the person filing for divorce. The more major issues resolved by both parties, the less it is likely to cost. If you and your spouse agree on major issues, regardless of how many there are, you can file an uncontested divorce – the least expensive – which could cost you even under $500 if you write and file your own divorce papers. All states charge their own fees for filing for divorce, even an uncontested filing, so a precise cost isn’t predictable. Some states also will grant the filer a waiver on the filing fees based on income. For an uncontested divorce, if the state where you file has a mandatory waiting period, once that period is up the divorce decree is final. An uncontested divorce is the least expensive, and the most straightforward, because no lawyers or mediators are needed to help both parties agree to the terms.
The Average Cost of a Divorce without a Lawyer
The minimum charge on a divorce is the filing fee. Filing fees can range from around $210, the lowest, in Wyoming, to $1,535 in California. If you’re using a lawyer, these fees are usually part of the lawyer’s retainer. Very few couples can agree on, identify, and amicably split assets in a divorce without a lawyer. If you don’t have children, have few assets – if you entered the marriage owning your own cars and rented your home, for instance – and agree no spousal support is required of either party because, perhaps, the marriage was short, you can do it yourself online. At least one person in a couple will have to file a legal petition for dissolution of marriage with the clerk of a local county court. As noted, each court charges a filing fee. The average is $300, but can be closer to $500 in some states, like California.
When you file a divorce petition, you also need to serve the case, or papers, to your spouse. In the case of a divorce, the papers can be served either in person or by mail. In the case of an online, “do-it-yourself” divorce, the person who first filed the petition with the court usually submits the petition and a summons to the local sheriff’s department for the papers to be served by law enforcement personnel or arranges for a private process server to deliver the petition – a signature from the other party indicating they either agree to the terms or wish to contest it. A private process server to serve divorce papers usually costs about $50.
Some states, like California, provide resources online for filing for divorce, including forms for responding to a divorce filing. State websites sometimes even include resources for filing online for an annulment, requesting support, or to change or end an order for spousal or child support.
The Average Cost of a Divorce with a Lawyer
If there are significant assets to divide, or child custody, child support or alimony to decide, both parties usually benefit by hiring their own attorney. Using a lawyer, of course, increases the cost for either party. With a lawyer, your divorce could cost you a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how much time of the lawyer’s you are billed. Lawyer fees, billed by the hour, can range from several hundred dollars an hour to more than $500. For some lawyers, a 15-minute consulting phone call, or emailing, could cost you half a billable hour. And a half-hour could cost you a billable hour. Lawyers charge for phone calls, emails, text messages, court preparation, depositions (questioning others on the record), discovery (getting information from your spouse’s lawyer related to your case), paper preparation and review, and research.
Lawyers charge an average of about $1,000 for an uncontested divorce. In states with a higher standard of living, such as California or New York, lawyers can charge an average of $3,500-$5,000 to help you complete an uncontested divorce. A contested divorce — in which major issues like division of assets and child custody or support, or even actually divorcing, can’t be agreed on — can cost from an average $2,500 up to several thousand dollars or more. In a contested divorce, the issues may ultimately have to be hashed out in front of a judge. A divorce that has to go to trial can cost couples as much as $20,000 on average to complete, with at least $15,000 going to attorneys’ fees, according to some lawyers.
Settling a case out of court can cost closer to $15,000.
Most lawyers charge a flat fee or retainer to help with a divorce, but in general family law attorneys charge an average between $250-$350 per hour, though some might charge as much as $650 or more an hour to help clients through a complicated or difficult divorce, like one in which couples have their own businesses or other more complex shared assets. A retainer should cover most of the court fees, filing fees, and the lawyers’ time to meet in person, correspond with you by email or phone or text, and to appear at court hearings or other proceedings in person.
A contested divorce with children requiring lawyers to help work out custody details will cost more because of the lawyer’s time involved than an uncontested one. Generally, the more time a child spends with one parent, the less in child support that parent has to pay. But in a contested divorce where no agreement can be reached on child custody or a schedule, the court can require a child custody evaluation be done by a trained psychologist who interviews each parent. The psychologist also talks to the kids, and observes the kids at home with each parent. If the child custody evaluator works for the county, the evaluation will cost an average of $1,000-$2,500. If a private evaluator is used, the charge might be $10,000 or more.
Alimony determination can also take a lot of time and increase the cost to the couple. You can cut costs by using a lawyer for only part of your case: also called ‘limited scope representation.’ You could have your lawyer just review documents, or negotiate with your lawyer what you will or won’t pay for, such as agreeing to use the lawyer to prepare and review documents but not to charge you for phone calls or emails. A hearing or trial will also naturally increase your costs. Trials sometimes incur costs to you for several expert witnesses, and the cost of going to trail alone often results in divorce cases being settled out of court. For that reason, family law judges in most states assigned to contested divorce cases require couples to do everything they can to reach a settlement agreement and avoid a trial, because a trial costs not only the couple divorcing but also the city and state where the divorce is proceeding. If children are involved, yours together or even separately, costs increase with agreements having to be reached or adjudicated regarding child support, custody, and visitation. Without such issues, a divorce between two people in agreement can save both parties expense. That is why an uncontested divorce is the least expensive. If you and your spouse agree on the major issues of the divorce, you can write your own agreement. Your only cost then would be filing fees, serving papers, and the cost of divorce papers themselves if you get them online. Online companies will charge for preparing divorce papers, but they may also have lawyers review them for you. Some courts will give you a divorce packet for free; some states will have them available for free on their website as well. Besides an uncontested divorce, a way to save money and avoid a trial would be to use mediation of a collaborative divorce.
In mediation, you and your spouse avoid trial be mediating with a neutral third party, a mediator. Because it involves a third party, usually a professional mediator, attorney-mediator, or former commissioner or judge, mediation can still wind up costing between a few thousand and $10,000 dollars, on average, depending on how long the mediation takes and how much is involved. Mediation usually costs an average of $100-$300 an hour. Even a collaborative divorce is cheaper than going to trial. In a collaborative divorce, both parties retain attorneys. You, your spouse, and your attorneys meet to hash out contested parts of the divorce. If you and your spouse ultimately reach agreements, while the attorneys will be an expense, the cost of litigation will be saved.
How Long Does the Average Divorce Case Take?
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.
Bringing Down Divorce Costs: Uncontested Divorces, Mediation, and
Beyond doing everything you can to avoid a trial, our survey results pointed to some other possibilities for lowering the cost of divorce.
• Uncontested divorce: Nearly a third (30%) of readers said they had no major contested issues in their divorces, and their costs were much lower than the overall average: $4,100, on average, including attorneys’ fees. They also got through the process more quickly—an average of eight months. Many of these readers may have been eligible to take advantage of a streamlined divorce process known as an “uncontested divorce” or a “summary dissolution,” which is available in many states for couples who meet specific requirements.
• Mediation or collaborative divorce: Some couples turn to collaborative divorce or mediation in an attempt to reach a settlement agreement. Neither of these alternatives work for everyone, but they could save you money. Nearly a third of the readers in our survey tried mediation; on average, they spent $970 on mediation costs, although half spent $500 or less.
• Consulting attorneys: If you can’t afford to hire a full-scope divorce attorney, it’s still wise to seek out legal advice or help at some point along the way—especially to make sure that your rights are protected in any settlement. You might be able to hire a consulting attorney for specific tasks, such as helping you understand and complete divorce forms, preparing for mediation, drafting or reviewing a proposed settlement agreement, or representing you in court appearances. In our survey, only one in 10 readers said they had hired a consulting lawyer in their divorce. But those readers typically saved a lot of money on attorneys’ fees; the average total fees for consulting attorneys were $4,600, and the median total was $3,000.
Free Consultation with Divorce Lawyer in Utah
If you have a question about divorce law or if you need to start or defend against a divorce case in Utah call Ascent Law at (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506