On average, hiring a divorce lawyer costs approximately $250 an hour. But, some clients may pay as low as $175 to $200 an hour and others could pay closer to $300 to $325 an hour.
Divorce lawyer cost:
|National hourly rate||$250/hour|
|Low-end hourly rate||$175-$200/hour|
|High-end hourly rate||$300-$325/hour|
It’s important to understand, however, that your costs could be substantially higher — especially if you and your spouse:
- are contesting the divorce
- can't agree on child custody
- can't agree on alimony
- have many assets to divide
Some divorces are highly contentious and can result in lengthy litigation, which can increase costs. Others start off contested and end up being amicably settled between the parties. And because courts in certain states, cities and counties have different fees, your location can impact costs as well. For these reasons, the total average divorce cost can exceed $10,000 or even $20,000, according to various surveys and reports.
Read this guide to find out how divorce attorney fees work and what you might expect to pay in your case. Then, contact a divorce lawyer near you to set up a consultation and receive cost estimates.
What’s in this cost guide?
Every divorce and family law attorney has their own fee structure. While most bill hourly, some choose to work with flat fees or on a sliding scale based upon income. However, they should not charge unreasonable fees or contingent fees for divorce cases.
When you hire a divorce attorney, expect to be billed for all the work that is done on your case. Attorneys may charge for:
- Phone calls
- Court appearances
- Travel to court
- Conversations with opposing counsel
- Drafting petitions, motions, discovery and other court documents
Every divorce is unique and has different issues, so it’s nearly impossible for an attorney to determine how much your divorce will cost at the beginning of the case. Because many variables can be involved, some charge hourly rates.
There are many factors that go into why an attorney charges a certain hourly rate. Usually, it’s based on their level of experience and what the average rate is in your locality. An experienced lawyer in a major metropolitan area will likely charge more than one who practices in a small town. Some might also charge a different hourly fee for separate family law matters like mediation, child support or custody than they would to litigate a divorce.
Lawyers within a multiple-attorney firm may also charge different rates — expect partners to charge much higher rates than first-year associates. There are also separate rates for paralegals and legal assistants. You should always make sure you know who will be working on your case and the hourly rate they charge before retaining a particular firm.
Not all attorneys charge a flat fee, but you might find one who charges one for a contested or uncontested divorce, for example. However, depending on your agreement with the lawyer, you might have to pay more than a flat fee if unexpected issues arise during the case.
Before retaining a professional for your case, it’s a good idea to interview several to determine who the best fit is. While some offer free consultations, others charge a fee or their usual hourly rate for their time.
Free consultations are often quick, informational type interviews. If an attorney is charging for the initial consultation, they will also likely provide you with valuable legal advice — this often makes a consultation fee well worth the expense. Before you make the appointment, find out how much they charge for a consultation and what is covered during the time.
Some attorneys will ask for a retainer fee. This is an up-front advance payment the attorney draws from to pay for expenses associated with your case. Depending on the complexity of the case, a retainer can cost several thousand dollars.
Attorney fees aren’t the only costs associated with a divorce. If your case requires an expert witness or a property appraiser, the parties will be responsible for paying their rates. You can also expect fees to file court documents and have your petition served.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the fees you can expect:
Court filing fees
To start your case, you need to file a petition with the court (which often entails giving the documents to a court clerk). The initial divorce filing fee is typically the most expensive and can vary, depending on where you live. For example, the filing fee can range from as little as $85 if you’re filing in Wyoming to $435 if you’re divorcing in California.
Process server fees
Once you're done filing your divorce papers with the court, they will need to be served to your soon-to-be ex-spouse by a process server, which typically costs between $50 and $70.
Other legal costs
In addition to filing fees for the initial divorce paperwork, you might also pay a fee when filing a settlement agreement, obtaining a certified copy of your divorce decree or hiring other experts and advisors to help with your case and assets.
The total cost of your divorce case generally comes down to whether it’s contested or uncontested. If your case is uncontested, you and your spouse agree on the grounds for the divorce, property division, child support and child custody, parenting time, alimony and any other issues specific to your case. An uncontested divorce is often faster and less costly than a contested action.
If your divorce case is contested and you and your spouse cannot agree on the issues that must be resolved prior to the court granting a dissolution, expect to pay much more. Contested divorces are lengthier and can involve a lot of time spent in court. They may also involve an extensive discovery process to obtain financial information and other documents relevant to the case.
Divorces can be expensive, especially when they’re contested. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can keep your legal fees down.
Mediation or collaborative divorce
Keeping your divorce out of court or as amiable as possible is the best way to keep divorce costs down. Mediation and collaborative divorces are cost-effective alternatives to litigation. They can help both parties reduce conflict and allow them to control their case's outcome.
Many jurisdictions have online instructions for filling out paperwork for litigants who choose to represent themselves pro se. If your divorce is uncontested and doesn’t involve children or significant assets, a do-it-yourself divorce may be the best option to avoid high costs.
If you are a pro se litigant and just need help e-filing or filling out court forms, you may want to see if there are attorneys in your area who offer unbundled services. This means they would provide assistance for only a specific task.
Depending on the court, you may be able to apply for a fee waiver when filing a petition with the court clerk. You may qualify for a waiver if you have a low income and can't afford the court fees.
Divorce is an emotional and stressful process. It’s important to make sure you hire a lawyer who specializes in divorce and family law. You should also feel comfortable with your lawyer. While you might be tempted to go with a low-cost divorce attorney, that might not always be the best option.
Here are a few steps you can take to make sure you choose a professional who’s right for your case:
Step 1: Research attorneys online
Look up divorce attorneys near you, and take some time to read their profiles and understand their expertise. Read what other clients have to say and see if you can find a lawyer within your budget. Narrow down your list to a few professionals you think might be a good match.
Step 2: Get free quotes
Contact each lawyer, and ask them about their fees. Ask if you can receive a written list of their fees so you can compare costs among several attorneys.
Step 3: Check credentials and licensing
Make sure the attorney is properly licensed. Don’t be afraid to ask about their experience in handling cases such as yours. If they don’t have a level of experience you’re comfortable with, consider another option.
Step 4: Read client reviews
Client reviews can speak volumes. An experienced lawyer should have an adequate number of testimonials from happy clients so you can feel confident your case is in good hands.
Step 5: Schedule a consultation and ask questions
Before you go for an initial consultation, make a list of questions and concerns that are important to you. For example, you can ask:
- about the filing process and what it entails
- how long the divorce might take
- if it's possible to have a payment plan
- how long they've studied family law
- if your spouse will be held responsible for your legal fees
Remember, you’ll be working with your lawyer for the long-haul and have to discuss some highly personal issues. You should feel comfortable talking with the attorney you choose to retain.
Experienced legal counsel and a good attorney-client relationship can make all the difference in your case. If you’re ready to hire an attorney to help in your divorce case, search for the best divorce lawyers near you on Thumbtack to schedule a consultation and start receiving cost estimates.
Do you still have questions about divorce costs and attorney fees? Here are the answers to common questions you might have:
Who pays the divorce attorney fees?
It depends. Each spouse is usually responsible for paying their own legal fees. Some jurisdictions award divorce attorney fees, and a higher-earning spouse may end up being responsible to pay reasonable attorney fees for the other.
Is it worth getting a divorce lawyer?
Although a simple divorce may be possible to do on your own, it’s still a good idea to consult with a lawyer to find out what your legal rights are. The legal process can be daunting, strenuous and confusing — hire a pro who can help you finalize your divorce.