What does it cost to get divorced in California? Like almost everything else in the law, the best answer is “it depends.” This is a general introduction to the basic costs of a California divorce and the factors that can increase or reduce those costs. Any specific figures mentioned here are general and hypothetical. Of course, every couple is different and every divorce is different, so if you seek to divorce in southern California, at some point you will need to speak directly with an experienced Long Beach divorce attorney about what your own divorce might cost.
You may have more of a say about the cost of your divorce than you think. For instance, an uncontested divorce is often the best divorce option when the spouses are concerned about fees and costs but have no particular bitter feelings toward one another and are ready to move on with their lives. However, the rules for an uncontested divorce are precise, not every divorcing couple in California will be eligible. To obtain an uncontested divorce in California:
- The time between the marriage and the separation date must be five years or less.
- There are no minor children and neither spouse is pregnant or seeks spousal support.
- One spouse must reside in California for at least six months and in the county where the divorce petition is filed for at least three months.
- Both spouses must sign an agreement to divide all assets and debts.
- There are no outstanding debts over $6,000 (apart from car notes) and neither partner owns any real estate. Any lease agreements must end within a year of the filing of the divorce petition and may not include an option to buy.
- Apart from vehicles, total marital assets are less than $38,000, including retirement and deferred compensation, and neither spouse individually owns assets valued over $38,000.
In California, an uncontested divorce is called a “summary dissolution of marriage.” If spouses are eligible for a summary dissolution, they will have considerably less red tape and paperwork to deal with, and they will not be required to appear in court. A summary dissolution should cost $3,600 to $6,000 – total for both spouses – although the final figure number may be more. However, if there are no disagreements and everyone works together cooperatively, the cost of the divorce can probably remain below the $6,000 figure.
However, not that many divorcing couples in California will qualify for an uncontested divorce. In many divorces, there are disputes over the division of property and assets and over spousal support. When divorcing partners are parents, there may be a dispute over custody, child support, or visitation rights. Each matter in that is in dispute will increase the cost of a divorce in California.
HOW MUCH DOES THE DIVISION OF PROPERTIES, ASSETS, AND DEBTS COST?
Even when the division of properties, assets, and debts is undisputed, the paperwork can take four to six hours of an attorney’s time. It might sound easy, but determining who owns what can be quite complicated, especially if the property and assets that must be divided are extensive.
If there are disputes and lengthy negotiations, the cost rises, and when properties must be liquidated, the cost rises again. If one partner or spouse is attempting to hide assets, there may be additional investigative costs to uncover those hidden assets.
Disagreements over property and assets can take up a lot of time. One or both spouses may insist on an appraisal to decide a home’s fair market value. And even after an appraisal, a fair and equitable division of real estate holdings can be quite challenging and often the most complicated issue in a divorce. An experienced Long Beach divorce attorney can probably give you an estimate – early in the divorce process – of what the division of property, assets, and debts will cost in your own case.
HOW MUCH WILL CUSTODY AND SUPPORT DISPUTES COST?
If the spouses cannot reach an agreement regarding child custody, the attorneys may spend hours on the phone, writing letters, and meeting in person to negotiate. Even complicated child custody disputes can usually be settled in about six hours of negotiations or less, but obviously, the longer and more difficult the negotiations, the more expensive the whole process becomes. This is why it’s imperative to work out as much as possible with your spouse as early as possible in the divorce process.
Child support is usually easier to determine than spousal support, particularly if all of the finances are fully disclosed. California has formal guidelines to help judges decide the appropriate amount of child support that should be paid to a custodial parent by the non-custodial parent after a divorce.
If parents cannot agree on a child support amount, a California judge will use the state’s guidelines to impose a child support order. Your divorce attorney knows what the guidelines require, and in most cases, your attorney can quickly give you a rough estimate of the amount of child support that will be required.
Spousal support (alimony) is different, because divorcing partners may disagree about the standard of living during the marriage or about the length of time spousal support should be paid. Spousal support negotiations often consume more hours than any other matter in a divorce. There is simply no way to estimate the cost – especially if the finances are complicated and the emotions are running high – but most divorce attorneys charge by the hour, so every additional complication will add to the cost of a divorce.
WHAT IS THE COST OF A DIVORCE TRIAL?
The cost of a divorce trial is almost impossible to estimate, but if your divorce must end with a divorce trial because the spouses cannot agree on anything, it can cost thousands, and if the finances are complicated, a divorce trial can cost tens of thousands. Compromising where you can and agreeing with your spouse on as many matters as possible is really the only way to reduce the cost of a California divorce. When everything is in dispute, the cost of discovery requests, interrogatories, subpoenas, depositions, and transcripts can pile up fast.
CAN A SPOUSE BE ORDERED TO PAY THE OTHER SPOUSE’S LEGAL FEES?
In most cases, a California judge will not require your spouse to pay your attorney fees. In very rare instances, California judges will order one spouse to pay the other’s attorney fees, but only – when the finances are so unbalanced that the proceeding would otherwise be entirely unjust. In such a case, the needier spouse can ask the court to review the finances and determine if the more advantaged spouse should pay all or part of the needier spouse’s attorney fees.
Most California divorce attorneys are willing to work with their clients and can offer someone seeking a divorce several ways to pay after discussing your full range of legal options. There is no way to predict the final amount that a divorce will cost in the state of California, but in many cases an experienced California divorce attorney can give you a rough cost estimate very early in the divorce process.