The Average Cost of Divorce in 2020
Regardless of your age or marital history, divorce is expensive. But how expensive is it? What's the average cost of a divorce?
There are many factors that contribute to the overall cost, including whether you're looking at a contested or uncontested divorce, whether you hire a divorce mediator, the law firm you choose if you need an attorney, and others.
We pulled together statistics from a wide variety of sources to find the average divorce cost around the country.
Editor's note: If you have specific or technical questions about divorce cost, consider seeking legal advice.
- The average (mean) cost of a divorce is $12,900.
- The median cost of a divorce is $7,500.
- An uncontested divorce or one with no major contested issues costs, on average, $4,100.
- Disputes over child support, child custody, and alimony raise the average cost of a divorce significantly.
- Divorces that go to trial on two or more issues cost, on average, $23,300.
- The average hourly rate for a divorce attorney is $270.
- The average total cost of legal fees was $11,300 per spouse when a full-scope divorce attorney was involved.
- The median total cost of legal was $7,000 per spouse when a full-scope divorce attorney was involved.
- Divorces take, on average, between 12 and 18 months to finalize.
- Filing fees range from $75 in North Carolina to $435 in California.
- Divorced men and women have less money in independently owned defined-contribution retirement accounts than married men and women.
The average cost of divorce: $12,900
According to a survey conducted by legal website Nolo, the average (mean) total cost of divorce in 2019 was $12,900 while the median cost was $7,500.
However, there were substantial differences in divorce costs based on factors such as
- whether child support or child custody were involved,
- whether alimony was an issue, and
- whether the divorce was settled outside of court or the couple went to trial.
The table below shows Nolo's results for the average cost of a divorce under different circumstances:
|Divorce circumstances||Average (mean) cost||Median cost|
|With no major contested issues||$4,100|
|Without alimony-related disputes||$7,800||$4,250|
|Without child-related disputes||$10,100||$6,000|
|With disputes settled out of court||$10,600|
|With child-related disputes||$15,500||$9,300|
|With alimony-related disputes||$15,900||$10,300|
|That goes to trial on at least one issue||$20,379|
|That goes to trial on two or more issues||$23,300|
Divorces that go to trial are significantly more expensive due to the added legal fees involved. A dispute over alimony, or spousal support, also adds substantially to the price tag -- even more than child-related disputes.
Are divorces expensive? They can be. Here are the fees involved
Uncontested divorces are generally quite affordable. In the case of a contested divorce, you could be looking at over $10,000. These can include attorney's fees, court costs, and other miscellaneous fees and expenses.
Average attorney fees: $11,300
Working with an attorney can add substantially to your costs; however, a lawyer may be able to protect your rights regarding custody, support, and division of marital property.
According to Martindale-Nolo research, the average hourly rate for a divorce lawyer was $270 and the average total cost for legal fees per spouse was $11,300 (though the median was $7,000). However, not all attorneys charge the same hourly rate. In fact, the research found the following:
- 11% of respondents paid their attorney $100 per hour.
- 34% paid $200 per hour.
- 35% paid $300 per hour.
- 20% paid $400 or more per hour.
The more complicated the divorce, the higher attorneys' fees -- especially if the proceedings take a long time or if going to trial to resolve contested issues is necessary. Some attorneys offer a flat fee, which can help you budget for your divorce case. Other might charge a retainer fee instead.
As the Martindale-Nolo research revealed, average attorney fees were
- $4,100 with no contested issues,
- $10,400 in cases where a dispute was resolved outside of court, and
- $17,700 when a dispute had to be resolved in trial.
Unsurprisingly, long legal proceedings also run up attorney fees and raise total costs. In fact, while the average cost of attorney fees in a divorce completed in less than six months totaled $6,500, that average went up to $23,000 in legal fees in cases where the divorce dragged on for more than 30 months.
Remember that you don't always need a divorce lawyer -- divorce mediation can help reduce costs if there are contested issues that you need to solve.
How long does a divorce take? 12 to 18 months
According to Nolo, the average time it takes to complete the process of dissolving a marriage is 12 months. However, for those who went to trial to resolve at least one contested issue, the average time expanded to 18 months.
Going to court creates more attorney fees and, in most cases, also increases the court fees you will pay. While every divorce requires legal dissolution of the marriage, those who have an uncontested divorce typically pay just one filing fee, while couples who contest issues may have to pay additional fees for motions, court reporting services, and other miscellaneous court expenses.
Divorce filing fees by state
The court must legally dissolve your marriage. You have to pay a filing fee in court for this. Filing fees vary a lot by state, with some states showing significantly higher divorce costs than others.
The table below shows what you will pay for, at minimum, filing a divorce complaint. In some states, that fee covers everything, or nearly everything. But in many states, there are a large number of additional fees that will inevitably crop up depending on the exact requirements of your case.
|State||Average filing fees|
|Alabama||$400 including a $50 administrative fee.|
|Alaska||$250 + $75 to file for any modifications of custody, visitation, property division, or alimony.|
|District of Columbia (Washington D.C.)||$80|
|Florida||Varies by county; $408 in Hillsborough.|
|Hawaii||$215 plus $50 parent education surcharge if there are minor children.|
|Idaho||$154 without minor children or $207 with minor children.|
|Illinois||Varies by county; $334 in Lake County circuit.|
|Kentucky||$148 if filed with no attorney or $153 with an attorney.|
|Louisiana||Varies by county; $355 without service of process in Ascension Parish.|
|Mississippi||$400 including $50 administrative fee.|
|Missouri||Varies by county; $133.50 without minor children or $233.50 with minor children in Jefferson County.|
|New Hampshire||$400 including $50 administrative fee.|
|North Carolina||$75 for absolute divorce.|
|Ohio||Varies by county; $350 in Washington County.|
|Pennsylvania||$201.75 base fee, plus extra per "issue."|
|Tennessee||$184.50 without minor children or $259.50 with minor children (not including sheriff's fee).|
|Texas||Varies by county; $310 with minor children or $283 with no children in Harris County.|
|Vermont||$90 for state residents with a stipulation (a condition/requirement in the divorce agreement); $180 for non-residents with a stipulation; $295 without a stipulation.|
|Virginia||Varies by county; online calculator will display your fees based on your area.|
|Wisconsin||$184.50 with no support requests or $194.50 if requesting alimony or child support.|
|Wyoming||Varies by county; $120 in Big Horn.|
Again, these are often just the up-front filing fees. If your case is complex, you may pay additional fees to file more paperwork with the court or make other requests of the judge assigned to your case.
Other miscellaneous fees and expenses
Divorces may also result in other expenses. Examples include the following:
- Divorce mediation costs. Divorce mediators help couples resolve contested issues without going to trial. Average costs of hiring a mediator totaled $970. You may also choose a collaborative divorce attorney instead of a mediator.
- Forensic accountants. If you believe your spouse is hiding assets, a forensic accountant could help you find them. However, forensic accountants may require several thousand dollars as a deposit and total costs could be higher, depending on the complexity of your situation.
- Refinancing loans into one spouse's name. Refinancing could cost several thousand dollars depending on the type and amount of a loan. It may be necessary to ensure your credit isn't damaged and lenders don't pursue legal action against you for a joint debt your ex-spouse becomes responsible for paying during the divorce. Examples of loans you may wish to refinance include a joint mortgage and a car loan in both party's names. You may also wish to have one spouse take out a personal loan to repay a shared credit card with a balance.
- Relocation expenses. If one or both spouses must move during or after the divorce, they could be looking at over $2,000 for a local move and much more for a cross-country relocation.
- Family therapy for yourself or your child: Rates are typically $75 to $200 per session, according to the National Directory of Marriage and Family Counseling.
Long-term costs of divorce
In addition to the immediate costs associated with dissolving your marriage, there are long-term costs to consider.
- The mean value of independently-owned defined-contribution retirement accounts is $84,874 for married men, but $58,951 for divorced men, according to the National Institute for Retirement Security.
- The mean value of independently-owned defined-contribution retirement accounts is $50,126 for married women, but $38,613 for divorced women, according to the NIRS.
Divorcing prior to 10 years of marriage can also result in losing access to spousal benefits or survivor benefits from Social Security. And some older studies have shown that divorce causes an average 77% drop in wealth. This can occur due to division of assets as well as the additional costs of maintaining two households.
Do you have to pay for divorce?
You are not required to hire an attorney to divorce. And while courts charge filing fees, many allow you to apply for a fee waiver if you have a low income and it would be a serious financial hardship to pay court costs.
Filing court paperwork yourself can be complicated without a lawyer, but many jurisdictions have guides to help. You may also wish to consider paying a consulting attorney to help with specific tasks such as reviewing your divorce settlement agreement. Average total fees for consulting attorneys totaled $4,600 in 2019, according to Nolo.
Is it possible to get legal aid for divorce?
Most states have legal aid programs where you can get free or discounted legal services. If you cannot afford to pay divorce attorney fees and need help dissolving your marriage, find your local legal aid office to see what options are available. The American Bar Association has a directory of options for free legal aid.
If you are experiencing abusive or threatening behavior from your partner, you should not wait to take action due to cost concerns. You should call the police immediately and, in most cases, they can help you with requesting a domestic violence protection order at no cost to you.
How common is divorce?
In the United States, the rate of both marriages and divorces has declined in recent years. In 2008, for example, there were 17.9 new marriages per 1,000 women ages 15 and up, and 10.5 new divorces. By 2018, the number of new marriages had dropped to 16.6, and the number of new divorces had dropped sharply to 7.7 per 1,000 women, according to the Census Bureau.
Despite that drop in the rate, this still means hundreds of thousands of people per year end a marriage -- 782,038 in 2018.
These divorces aren't occurring evenly across the population, though. In fact, the divorce rate for adults ages 50 and up has close to doubled in recent years while the rate has fallen for other demographic groups, according to Pew Research. Divorces are also more common in repeat marriages, though reliable data is hard to come by.
- Bond, Tyler, Joelle Saad-Lesser, and Christian E. Weller (2020). National Institute on Retirement Security. "Still Shortchanged: An Update on Women's Retirement Preparedness."
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). "Marriage and Divorce."
- Lawyers.com (2020). "How Much Divorce Lawyers Charge."
- Lawyers.com (2019). "The Cost and Duration of Divorce."
- National Directory of Marriage & Family Counseling (n.d.). "Family & Marriage Counseling Cost: How Much Will it Cost?"
- Nolo (2019). "How Much Will My Divorce Cost and How Long Will It Take?"
- Stepler, Renee (2017). Pew Research Center. "Led by Baby Boomers, divorce rates climb for America’s 50+ population."
- U.S. Census Bureau (2020). "U.S. Marriage and Divorce Rates by State: 2008 & 2018."
- Zagorsky, Jay L. (2005). Journal of Sociology. "Marriage and divorce’s impact on wealth."
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