I’m sure you’ve heard it before – divorce is expensive. But what is expensive? It definitely is a subjective word that means different things to different people.
I’ve found, over the years, that nearly every client is very, very interested in how much the divorce will cost, but that very few really know what questions to ask to dig down deep and get the answer to their question.
How much something will cost is a question that, when it comes to divorce, doesn’t have just one answer. While you can Google any other product online and see immediately what it costs, like that the Louis Vuitton Bella handbag retails at $3,600 (which is – pretty inarguably – expensive), divorce doesn’t work that way.
There’s not one flat fee that everyone pays for the same service (in fact, there’s no one “service” that’s the same as any other service, either). There’s also not, as many people seem to think, a sliding scale, or very many (if any) free/low cost resources to people without means. Simply put, in almost every single case out there, divorce costs.
But what does it cost, exactly? That is, without being evasive, a hard question to answer. In an effort at complete transparency, I’ll tell you: you won’t walk away from reading this article with a number in your head for what a case like yours might cost. I can’t tell you; I haven’t met you, and I know nothing about your case yet. Or what type of divorce you’ll choose. Or what your goals are. Or how difficult your husband is. Or who he’ll hire as his attorney. All important points.
What I can tell you, though, is that, in general, there are three pieces of the ‘cost’ puzzle. These three pieces are important, and I think you should work hand in hand with a licensed Virginia divorce and custody attorney are you consider them. They’re not safe, easy, little yes or no questions, either. They’ll encourage you to look deep into your situation and make some judgments. They’ll probably require that you speak to an attorney about your individual case, the specific issues presented, your goals, and the advantages and disadvantages associated with the possible avenues available to you.
Cost is subjective, and there are a lot of factors involved when we analyze overall costs. Today, we’ll talk about three.
1. Total overall cost
Most of the time, when women ask me about cost, they want to know total overall cost of their case. While I understand – after all, there is going to be a final number, once all is said and done, that you’ve spent on your case. There IS a cost; it may be hard to know at such an early stage, but there is an end game number.
There’s also a ceiling, too. There’s an amount past which you just can’t pay, no matter what. You want to know that you won’t hit that ceiling. You may not even know, today, what that ceiling is.
It’s really hard for me to guesstimate total overall costs ahead of time, since there are so many variables that I just don’t know. A good way for you to begin to gauge and estimate total overall costs, though, is by looking both at the retainer amount quoted by your attorney and your prospective attorney’s hourly rates.
You may be able to glean, after you discuss with an attorney, what ballpark fees might look like for you. In a case where there are issues related to custody and/or visitation and/or spousal support, chances are good that fees will be higher than in a case where there are no children and/or support issues. Your prospective attorney may be able to place you in a ball park (though, admittedly, sometimes with HUGE margins on one side or the other) when she knows a little more about your case – but then again she maybe can’t. This type of guesswork is hard!
2. The cost associated with different ‘types’ of divorce.
In general, a litigated divorce is the most expensive type of divorce. Going to court is really expensive (it’s also probably the method that yields the poorest results, but more on that in point #3 below).
Negotiated divorces – where each party is represented by an attorney and a separation agreement is negotiated – are often the least expensive. Ultimately, it depends on how contentious a case is, but these often have the potential to resolve the most inexpensively.
I’m speaking in generalities here; there’s the occasional litigated divorce that doesn’t cost $25k+, and the occasional negotiated divorce that costs in the five figures, but those are outliers. Collaborative divorce, even though it involves a team of professionals, probably lies between a negotiated and a litigated divorce – though, again, ultimately it relates to how difficult the case is to resolve. There will always be a lot of variation from one case to the next, but there are methods of divorce that are more or less expensive, generally, than others.
3. Cost of getting a GOOD divorce (as opposed to a bad, or even just mediocre, one)
Depending on the type of divorce you choose – litigated, negotiated, or collaborative – you may have more or less control over the outcome.
Litigated divorces, in general, involve little control over the outcome. You put the issues in front of the judge, and the judge (yes, the old dude who knows the least about the parties in the room) makes a decision. It’s also typically the most expensive type of divorce.
Negotiated divorces (theoretically at least) give you more control. Still, we’re more or less held to the standard ‘what would the judge do?’ analysis that guides a lot of our cases. Ultimately, we know if we can’t reach an agreement on a lot of things, the judge will lean a particular way – so that helps move things forward (which is good) but sort of stifles creativity (which is less desirable). Your separation agreement and divorce decree will control your life after divorce in a lot of ways, so there’s a lot of merit to negotiating something that is customized to your situation.
In a negotiated divorce, you do have the freedom to be creative, but it’s often the case that things follow a fairly predictable pattern.
In collaborative divorce, on the other hand, we’re much less limited to the ‘what would the judge do’ analysis, since we’ve already made a pledge not to go to court. Yes, it’s true – there is some cost associated with getting a divorce that is tailored to you, your children, and your specific situation.
It’s not like you can create a ‘unique to you’ divorce agreement for free. The question is – what do you need to see, what would help you move forward, what would encourage successful coparenting, what maximizes the value of your investments – what is worth it to you?
Ultimately, you’ll have to balance all of these things – navigating a possible ‘ceiling’ past which you just couldn’t pay, choosing a type of divorce that works for you and for your budget, and choosing something . will give you the results that you need to see.
I’m not saying it’s easy, just that there are a lot of considerations that are bigger than just knowing the finite amount that your divorce will cost you. We’re happy to help you weigh the pros and cons and figure out which way to go.
It’s also not as easy as saying, “Can you afford NOT to?” because, at the end of the day, there is a ceiling. We understand. And we can help you analyze the situation, run some guideline support numbers, look at your options, and discuss a route forward.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give us a call at 757-425-5200.