2024 How Much Does a Divorce Cost in California?

Divorce is a challenging and emotionally draining process for anyone to go through. In addition to the obvious emotional toll, it can also represent a serious financial burden at a time when you are least able to bear one. That’s why one of the most common questions people have when considering divorce is just how …

April 11, 2023

Divorce is a challenging and emotionally draining process for anyone to go through. In addition to the obvious emotional toll, it can also represent a serious financial burden at a time when you are least able to bear one. That’s why one of the most common questions people have when considering divorce is just how much it will cost. This is especially true in California, where the cost of living is high and the divorce process can be complicated and require multiple court visits to complete.

While there is no simple, exact dollar amount answer for what it will cost you to complete a divorce, there are various factors that influence the cost of getting divorced in California. It is useful to know some general information and tips about navigating the divorce process and budgeting for the various associated costs.

The total cost of the average California divorce is around $18,000, with the majority of that going to attorney fees. The average attorney retainer (the initial fee you pay for an attorney to take your case) is anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 in the state, with California divorce lawyers charging around $300 hourly on average. However, there is the potential for massive variance in all these factors.

The Cost of Divorce in California: A Complex Equation

The cost of divorce in California can vary widely, depending on several factors. This is true of almost any legal situation, and ending a marriage is no different. Some of the key factors that will influence the cost of your divorce include:

  • The Complexity of Your Case: The more complex a divorce case is, the more time will need to be spent in court, in negotiations, and in preparation. Because most lawyers charge hourly, a complex divorce is more expensive. The need to catalog, liquidate, and divide complex assets is one issue that can add a lot of time to a divorce. If you and your spouse own a business together, or have individually held properties that have been comingled with marital assets, the divorce process will become more complicated, more time-consuming, and ultimately more expensive.
  • The Quality of Your Legal Counsel: The cost of hiring an attorney can vary widely in California. Quality representation will cost a bit more. Hourly and percentage-based fees for legal help can vary massively depending on factors like your attorney’s experience, reputation, location, strategy, and business model. Typically, the more successful and skilled an attorney is, the more in demand they will be, and, subsequently, they will be among the most expensive attorneys. This does not mean that quality legal representation is unattainable; it simply means you must budget smartly when entering into a divorce.
  • Whether Mediation Will Work for You and Your Ex: Mediation is the act of sitting down with your ex and a neutral, qualified third party to work out the terms of a divorce settlement outside of court. This will almost always be a more cost-effective way to handle a divorce when it is possible to do so. In some cases, mediation can effectively cut attorney fees in half (or better) since you’re paying one attorney (your mediator) to help come up with a collaborative settlement in everyone’s interests rather than paying two separate attorneys to battle one another. Mediation fees are typically in the $200 to $300 per hour range but will vary with the particulars of the case, like any other legal service.
  • Litigation and the Extent Thereof: When divorcing couples can’t come to an amicable settlement, divorce becomes a form of litigation, with one party “suing” the other to start the divorce process. This is when divorces can be more expensive because divorce litigation, like any other sort of litigation, involves going to court and paying all the associated costs.
  • Your Geographic Location: The cost of a divorce, even within the state of California, can also vary depending on where you live. Things like the demographics of the local clientele and market demand for services will help determine how your lawyer sets their prices down to a city or even neighborhood level. In general, divorce lawyers’ rates in major urban centers like Los Angeles and San Francisco will be more expensive than comparable services in rural areas.
  • Filing Fees: In addition to paying your attorney, there are fees that must be paid to the court to file for divorce. The cost to file for divorce in California is currently $435. This is a mandatory fee that everyone must pay, regardless of their income, their location, their legal representation, or the complexity of their case. Even a no-contest divorce (one in which the other party fails to respond or participate) is subject to this $435 fee, to be paid upfront by whichever party files for the divorce. Californians unable to cover this fee can apply for a waiver.
  • Indirect Expenses: In addition to the costs listed above, there can sometimes be other expenses associated with your divorce, such as the cost of hiring experts to appraise important assets or the cost of hiring a private investigator if proving infidelity is relevant to the proceedings.

FAQs About How Much Does a Divorce Cost in California

What Is the Average Cost to File for Divorce in California?

The current filing fee for a divorce in California is $435, but this is only the beginning of the costs involved in a divorce. Depending on the complexity of your case, you will also need to pay for attorney fees, court costs, and other expenses. A California divorce can cost $20,000 or more, with the bulk of these expenses going towards quality legal services.

What Is the Average Cost of an Uncontested Divorce in California?

An uncontested divorce in California is going to be less expensive than a contested divorce, for obvious reasons. Since your spouse is not contesting the filings or fighting the process, a no-contest divorce requires much less time and effort on the part of your attorney and court officials. If you represent yourself in an uncontested divorce to avoid attorney fees, remember that you will still be subject to the $435 filing fee. Even then, you may still find that complex legal situations requiring professional help can arise in uncontested divorces.

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get a Divorce in California?

The cheapest way to get a divorce in California is to handle it on your own. However, mishandling your divorce can end up being extremely expensive. When both parties go to court acting as their own attorneys, it is known as a pro se divorce. This is only advisable for couples with extremely simple cases, limited assets, and no minor children involved. Even when you expect it to be straightforward, divorce can become messy and confusing in an instant. A better option than self-representation is to use a mediator, which will be cheaper than going through the full court process while still allowing you access to a quality family law attorney in the form of your mediator.

How Long Does a Divorce Take From Start to Finish in California?

The length of time it takes to complete a divorce in California will vary widely depending on:

  • The complexity of the case
  • The disposition of the parties involved
  • Whether it can be resolved through mediation
  • The workload of the local court

An uncontested divorce (a divorce in which only one party participates) will typically be much faster, although you do have to give the other party sufficient time to respond. A simple uncontested divorce can be done in 6 months, minimum, with most divorces taking significantly longer, even when both parties broadly agree on terms and work collaboratively to move the divorce along to a positive outcome.

Contact the Law Offices of Hollie A. Lemkin, APC

Divorce is never an easy process, and it’s often not cheap, either. Understanding the factors that influence the cost of the process, and how you can save money without sacrificing the quality of your legal strategy, will allow divorcing couples to plan and budget effectively. The highly skilled team at the Law Offices of Hollie A. Lemkin, APC, in Orange County is available to do just that. Contact us today for a compassionate, no-pressure consultation.

Call today to speak with Hollie A. Lemkin to discuss your questions & issues!


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