There is no doubt about it, divorce is costly. There are so many areas of loss; relationships with friends and family, time with your children, the emotional cost, the loss of assets and the loss of time. The cost of one spouse moving out and setting up a separate household can be enough to stop the process altogether, and in most cases, it slows it down. A very expensive part is the divorce legal process. This a what you need to know.

  1. Attorneys: No doubt this is usually the costliest part of the divorce process. At the very least, each spouse should have a consultation with an attorney to understand their legal rights and then, except in the simplest of divorces, the legal documents have to be drawn up including the Separation Agreement (which can include the agreement regarding division of assets, the spousal support agreement and the child custody agreement) and the actual divorce complaint. There are also filing fees.

    Often, both parties retain a lawyer who they intend to use throughout the process. In Wilmington, NC, attorneys can cost anywhere from $250 to $500 per hour. Attorneys will ask for a retainer, so each spouse should be ready to shell out $3,500 to $10,000 just to get started. Usually, attorneys bill in 15-minute increments, so even a 5-minute phone call or short e-mail will cost 1/4th of the hourly rate of the attorney or paralegal.

    Both lawyers will prepare and review financial information and letters will go back and forth to gather information and attempt to settle. One or both attorneys may prepare Interrogatories, Subpoenas and Requests for Documents. If settlement negotiations between attorneys fails, mediation is required. In North Carolina and many other states, you must at least attempt to mediate equitable division and child custody before you can go to court. In that case, the attorneys will have to prepare for mediation and select and hire a mediator, often another attorney. During mediation, you and your spouse will usually be paying the hourly rate for three attorneys, which at a minimum will run about $750 per hour.

    If mediation fails and you go to court, the expenses REALLY add up. Think thousands and thousands of dollars.

    With collaborative divorce, where you agree not to go to court, the cost can be curtailed because the emphasis is on settlement. But you can still count on two lawyers gathering information and preparing your case and around 6-8 joint sessions lasting a few hours each. Do the math. It adds up.

    The litigation process is not quick and can take a year or more. The average cost of a divorce in the US according to is $15,000 per person. I have seen highly contested divorces costs grow into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  2. Mediation by a neutral mediator. Mediation gives you the opportunity to cut the price of the divorce process. Mediation with a neutral mediator is the least expensive way for couples who are amicable and/or want to avoid the high cost of using attorneys for the settlement process. Using a financial expert, such as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, who is also a mediator, can save money because just one person is reviewing and preparing the financial information provided by the couple. Even though attorney consultations may be involved and the legal documents must be prepared by an attorney, this is the least expensive way to divorce, other than doing it yourself.

  3. Business valuations. If there is a closely held business that is marital property, that business will need to be valued and a business valuator will need to be hired. I have seen the costs start at about $4,000 and go up, depending on the size of the business.

  4. Real estate appraisals. If one spouse decides to keep the marital home or if any other real estate, such as rental homes, are going to be kept, those properties will need to be appraised. This can involve a formal real estate appraisal or sometimes the spouses will agree to an estimate by a realtor. Real estate appraisals for residential property usually run around $400-$500 dollars.

  5. Child custody evaluators and private investigators. If there is a child custody dispute, a court appointed child custody evaluator might get involved as well as a private investigator. If adultery needs to be proved, a private investigator will need to be involved to provide evidence.
  6. QDRO. If there is an employer retirement account that is going to be split (a pension or a 401(k) type plan), by law a Qualified Domestic Relations Order will need to be prepared and signed by the judge. This can cost $500 to several thousand dollars, depending on who does the preparation.