How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

Blue border with black writing that reads "cost of divorce" with the gold Freed Marcroft LLC divorce and family law logo in the lower right hand cornerThere are three different ways to look at the cost of a Connecticut divorce – money, emotions, and time.  Usually when people ask how much a divorce costs, they are asking about one piece of the financial piece of divorce — legal fees.

Attorney fees, together with property division, alimony and spousal support, and child support, comprise the major financial considerations in a divorce or other family law matter.

With that, let’s take a look at the cost of divorce.

Understanding the Cost of Divorce

Nothing about divorce is “one size fits all,” including the legal fees involved.  That said, the things that prolong a divorce and make it financially and emotionally expensive generally look similar from case to case.  Some of the factors that impact the legal fees include the complexity of the assets involved, whether there are children, your spouse’s attorney.

More than anything, though, the two spouses’ ability to reach agreements and avoid acrimony has the largest impact on their attorneys’ fees.

Read: How To Decide Whether to Divorce

Read: How Do I Handle a High Conflict Spouse During Divorce

Average Cost of Divorce

One study out there from FindLaw put the average cost of divorce in Connecticut in 2020 at $12.000+.  Ascent pinned the 2020 average cost of a divorce in the US at $12,900, while cases that went to court on two or more issues averaged $23,300.  Bankrate’s 2017 survey puts the average at $15,000, while a “contentious divorce that drags out for years and includes a custody dispute can cost more than $100,000.”

An average cost of divorce doesn’t tell you much at all about what your divorce will cost.  (That said, those Ascent figures do emphasize the point that whether you reach agreements or ask a judge to decide has a tremendous impact on the cost of your divorce.)

Read: Don’t Add Fuel to the Fire: Five Tips for Smoother Communication During Divorce

How Legal Fees Work

In order to understand how much your divorce might cost, first, you have to know a little bit about how legal fees work.  This varies from law firm to law firm, and even from client to client.  We will use a common scenario here at Freed Marcroft as an example.

If we decide to work together after your Goals & Planning Session, we will enter into an “Engagement Agreement” that governs how our relationship will work – including with respect to legal fees.  You should review it very carefully so you understand our commitments to each other and how they work.  Generally speaking, in most cases you will provide your divorce attorney with a “retainer.”  A retainer fee is essentially a down payment for the lawyer’s services.  We place that retainer in a trust bank account separate from our business account.

As your Engagement Agreement describes, you are charged for the time your legal team spends working on your case – or what many people refer to as “by the hour.”  Not every member of your team will have the same hourly rate, and at Freed Marcroft we allocate work so that it is done by the most efficient member of your team for that purpose.

You might wonder why we bill for our time rather than just charge one fee for the entire divorce.  As we’ve mentioned, divorce isn’t “one size fits all,” including legal fees.  Billing by the hour means that your legal fees are tailored to your case alone, and you will pay for only the time we spend working to get you towards your goals.

Read: How Legal Fees Work

How Retainers Work

Freed Marcroft’s initial retainers generally range from $2,000 to $50,000 depending on the complexity of the case. Most divorce initial retainers range from $7,500 to $12,500.

Our billing and any expenses incurred on your behalf (for example court filing fees) are deducted from your retainer held for you in our trust account.  Your legal invoices will describe the work we have done on your behalf, as well as the current balance of your retainer.  Generally speaking, when you have spent about half of your retainer funds, you will be asked to bring your balance back up or “replenish” your retainer.  As with everything, the specifics of this are contained in your “Engagement Agreement.”  At Freed Marcroft, you will receive frequent bills, so you will be up to speed on what’s happening on your case and can prepare in advance for a replenishment request.  Any remaining unused retainer funds will be refunded to you at the conclusion of your divorce or our representation.

Read: What is the Average Retainer Fee for a Divorce Lawyer?

Funding Your Divorce Retainer

At Freed Marcroft, you can fund your retainer by check, electronic check, credit card, cash, or someone else can pay on your behalf.  Some people also borrow money from friends or family or take a loan from their 401k.

For some creative ideas on funding legal fees, Read: Can I Withdraw Retirement Funds to Pay My Divorce Attorneys’ Fees?

How to Keep Attorney Fees Down

As we’ve mentioned, the biggest factor in how the cost of your divorce — no matter how technically complex the case — is the two spouses’ ability to communicate effectively and reach agreements.  Although you’re not in control of your spouse’s behavior and choices, you are 100% in charge of your own.  In other words — you can have a significant impact on how much your divorce will cost.  In other words, a divorce that goes all the way to trial is very likely to have higher legal fees than a divorce that resolves.

Read: How to Help Keep Your Divorce Legal Fees Down

Read: Settlement & Divorce

Next Steps

At Freed Marcroft, we have helped hundreds of people move forward to a better life.  At our first step, the Goals & Planning Conference, we start by working through these questions with you to help you figure out your goals.  If you decide that divorce is part of what you need to do to get you to the future you want, we can help you.  If it isn’t, we will support you and help you figure out what you need to get you there instead.

Let’s keep you moving forward.

Click here to learn more about our first step at Freed Marcroft — the Goals & Planning Conference.

Different people have different priorities when it comes to divorce and their future.  There are three different ways to look at the cost of divorcing (or not divorcing) – monetary cost, emotional cost, and time.  When you think about your goals for your future, you want to think about time, money, and relationships.  Your present and your future are all built on those three things.  Click here to figure out how you prioritize time versus money versus relationships.