Demystifying the True Costs of Divorcing in 2023: Uncontested vs. Contested
Divorce can be an emotionally and financially demanding process; therefore, understanding the potential costs of your divorce will help you better anticipate what to expect during the process and make plans so your post-divorce life will be easier. The cost of a divorce can vary widely, but one of the key factors that heavily affects the cost is whether your divorce is contested or uncontested.
Typically, the general rule of thumb is an uncontested divorce is faster, simpler, and less expensive than a contested divorce case. However, depending on the financial status of your marriage, the definition of “expensive” may mean different things to different people. In this article, we’ll explain what’s involved in an uncontested and contested divorce and how those variables typically affect the overall cost of the case.
What’s Involved in an Uncontested Divorce?
An uncontested divorce occurs when both parties agree on the terms of the divorce, including issues such as the division of real and personal property, financial assets, support payments, etc. If you and your spouse can agree on these terms, then your divorce will be considered “uncontested” and should be much less expensive than a contested case. While uncontested cases sometimes involve couples with minor children, they are more common in cases where the parties only have their personal property and minimal debts to divide before going their separate ways.
An uncontested divorce will still require filing paperwork with your local family court, but it usually involves only one final hearing to approve the parties’ agreement and officially grant the divorce instead of potentially having several contested hearings to decide the various issues that must be resolved before the divorce can be finalized.
What’s Involved in a Contested Divorce?
A contested divorce occurs when one or both parties cannot agree on certain aspects of their separation. When this happens, it becomes necessary to file a case with the family court requesting a judge to make those decisions. Disagreements could include anything from how the assets and property are divided to child custody arrangements and parenting schedules to how much spousal or child support payments should be paid.
When two spouses can’t agree, the process required to resolve the disagreements can quickly become heated and very complicated – especially when child-related issues are involved – as each spouse may have a very different agenda for what they want to achieve in the divorce. Therefore, contested divorces almost always require more time (and money), as both spouses typically hire divorce attorneys to advocate for them during the case and to prepare the case for trial if all negotiations to settle the case outside of court fail.
What is the Average Cost of a Divorce in 2023?
Experienced family law attorneys almost always require a retainer, and the work done is billed against the retainer you pay them on an hourly basis. Attorney hourly rates can range from as low as $250 per hour to as high as $750 or more per hour. In large metropolitan areas such as New York or Los Angeles, some divorce attorneys regularly charge over $1,000 per hour for cases. If you are interviewing divorce attorneys to handle your case, one of the first things most will cover in the consultation is an overview of how their fees and billing process work. You will want to pay careful attention to this discussion when deciding which law firm is the best fit for your case and your wallet.
Needless to say, the cost of a divorce is almost always much lower when the parties can come to an agreement on all marriage-related issues without lengthy litigation. The average cost of an uncontested divorce in 2023 can be as low as $2,000 to $5,000. This amount usually covers the required filing fees to file the required paperwork with the local family court as well as service of process fees to have the other spouse properly served with notice of the final hearing by a professional process server. It also includes an allowance for paying a family court attorney at their hourly rate to review your prepared documents before you file them with the court to ensure you’ve done everything correctly. This amount may still vary based on where you live and the circumstances of your case, but for most people, this is a much more affordable option than paying for a contested divorce.
The cost of a contested divorce, however, can easily range from $10,000 to $50,000 (and well beyond that figure) depending on the issues being disputed, the resources the parties have to devote to “winning” their objectives, the number of professionals or experts hired to assist in preparing the case or testifying on behalf of each side at trial, and how long it takes for the case to be finalized by the court. The most expensive cases tend to be those that involve contested division of high-value assets and large financial resources, alimony or spousal support issues, or high-conflict personalities. Divorces involving contested child-related issues can also be much more expensive because they tend to be far more emotional, as the parents involved tend to feel they are fighting to protect their children from a less-than-ideal future with the other parent. This almost always leads to a loss of objectivity on one or both sides, which then results in tremendous amounts of time and money being spent on both sides of the case before the case can be resolved.
No matter which type of divorce you choose to pursue in your situation – contested or uncontested – it is important that you understand all your options before making any final decisions. An uncontested divorce can be much less expensive and simpler than a contested one, but it may not always be feasible, depending on the circumstances involved in your specific case. Even if you and your spouse initially thought an uncontested divorce would be possible, if at any point you believe your spouse is trying to take advantage of you, it’s best to invest whatever is necessary to protect your rights. If you fail to do so before the divorce is finalized, you may lose the right to fix it later.
It’s always best to consult with a divorce lawyer before starting the divorce process so you can make sure whatever decisions you make will support your long-term goals for yourself and your family post-divorce. Even if you’ve already started the process with your spouse, it’s still a good idea to have any final written settlement agreement drafted or at least reviewed by a family law attorney in your area to ensure it meets the standards required under your state’s divorce laws and your local family court rules. The added cost of this consultation will be like paying for an insurance policy you may never need, but it will also grant some peace of mind by ensuring a family court judge will accept your filed paperwork, the form of your agreement, and will grant your divorce at your final hearing.
If you and your spouse are considering divorce, don’t make any decisions about how to proceed before talking with a trusted attorney in your area. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
If you find yourself facing the prospect of a separation, divorce, alimony, support, or other financial issues, you need the help of an experienced South Carolina family law attorney to guide you through the difficult process. Ben Stevens is a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has the experience to help guide you through the most complicated family law issues. You are invited to contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an appointment.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
Offit Kurman, one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the United States, serves dynamic businesses, individuals and families. With 19 offices and more than 280 lawyers who counsel clients across more than 30 areas of practice, Offit Kurman helps maximize and protect business value and personal wealth by providing innovative and entrepreneurial counsel that focuses on clients’ business objectives, interests and goals. The firm is distinguished by the quality, breadth and global reach of its legal services and a unique operational structure that encourages a culture of collaboration. For more information, visit www.offitkurman.com.
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