How Much Will My Divorce Cost?

Unfortunately, short of a crystal ball, there is no way to predict with certainty how much a divorce will cost due to the many variables of your particular case. The good news is that your approach to the divorce and your actions during the divorce process can be instrumental in managing the costs.

The variables can exponentially drive up the cost of the divorce, but with some prudent decision-making, in many cases these variables can, to a certain extent, be managed and controlled.

The variables include:

  • Who you select for an attorney, and who your spouse selects. If you both select experienced family law attorneys who are tough, but settlement oriented, chances are you will be able to resolve your matter with a minimum of expensive and protracted litigation. If you or your spouse elects to choose a more “scorched earth” type practitioner, the matter is not likely to resolve quickly, and the costs can be much greater.
  • The complexity of your case. This would include the size and nature of the community estate, and whether there are businesses involved. If there is a sizeable estate, with complex assets, you will likely need to retain the services of an experienced forensic accountant who will be required to prepare various reports, such as cash flow, a business valuation and a marital balance sheet. It is critical that one chooses an accountant at the early stages of the proceeding and ensures that the professional is experienced in testifying in family law proceedings. While this is an added cost, it is crucial to the outcome of your complex case.
  • Is one spouse further along in the emotional process of ending the marriage? If not, the case can prove unexpectedly contentious, and may take longer to conclude simply because your spouse isn’t emotionally ready to be divorced. Counseling during the process is often helpful for people as they come to grips with the new reality of life after divorce.
  • Are there children involved and is there a major disagreement as to the parenting plan for the children? If this is the case, custody issues can be contentious and are likely to require more court time than other issues, resulting in a higher, overall cost of the divorce. The more divorcing parents can come to terms on how they will co-parent their children, the less likely it is that custody issues will serve to drive up the cost of the proceeding. Often, parents will seek the assistance of a therapist, counselor or mediator who specializes in helping parties reach parenting agreements before, during or after a divorce.
  • Tactics of the parties during the divorce proceeding. Because of the often, emotional nature of family law matters, costs can escalate quickly and those costs often have nothing to do with the actual substantive issues in the case. Unfortunately, many divorcing parties do not realize this until after the case is concluded, and after thousands of dollars have been spent. The more that the emotional component can be controlled by the parties, the more control the parties themselves have over the cost of the process. When a divorcing spouse’s driving motivation is to exact revenge or to harm the other spouse financially, the end result is a “lose-lose” outcome, with both parties (and their children) worse off emotionally and financially after the divorce.

While the California Family Code provides a mechanism for a divorcing spouse to request that fees be paid by the other side based on the relative circumstances of the parties, there is never a guarantee what the Court will do in a given set of circumstances. (Family Code §§2030 & 2032)

It is correct that the fee statutes are designed to ensure that both parties are adequately represented in their divorce proceeding. However, other factors are taken into consideration by the Court.

For example, the Court will look at the “reasonableness” of the fees incurred before it decides whether it should grant a fee request. The key here is whether the fees were “reasonably necessary” to further the outcome of the case. Reasonableness also goes to the idea of the “bad-faith” conduct of the parties, and the tactics mentioned above.  If the requesting party’s fees are incurred to delay, prolong or frustrate the resolution of the case, not only will fees likely not be awarded, the spouse who engaged in such tactics could be on the hook to pay for the other spouse’s fees as a sanction. (Family Code §271)

The take-away point is that divorcing spouses have a much greater impact on the overall cost of their divorce than they may realize. Their choice of attorney, their conduct during the proceeding, their ability to set aside the emotional aspect of the divorce, and their ability to problem solve for the benefit of their family, all go a long way toward managing and controlling the cost of their own divorce.

As always, it is prudent to discuss these issues with an experienced family law attorney at your earliest opportunity. This will ensure that you are fully apprised of your rights and the potential consequences of the actions you take early on in the proceeding.

Paula Swensen

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