How much is a divorce?

Posted on Apr 14, 2021 by Katie Carter


How much is a divorce? It’s a hard question to answer, because no two divorces are exactly the same. The total overall costs of a case has a lot to do with the specific facts involved in each case, which can vary dramatically from one to the next.

Is that a cop out of an answer? I don’t think it is – because I’ve seen how much these things can vary – but I can remember several times I’ve been online looking for the price of things only to hit a wall. It makes you want to scream, “Just give me a number already!” Is that how you’re feeling? Well, I can’t give you a number, just like that, but I can give you a framework and kind of explain what it means when different things are an issue.

An uncontested divorce is always going to be less expensive than a contested one.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t say “always,” because there could be that random case that makes me a liar. Specifically, too, I see collaborative divorce cases that are as expensive as litigation, especially given the involvement of so many professionals.

Okay, revising my statement: usually, an uncontested divorce is less expensive than a contested one.

An uncontested divorce is one where the parties are ultimately able to reach an agreement about how the assets and liabilities will be divided. That doesn’t mean it happens right away, that it happens easily, or that it happens without considerable back and forth between a husband and a wife (or their attorneys). The path to reaching an agreement can look different, and can vary from case to case.

In some cases, parties engage in mediation to reach an agreement. Still others pursue collaborative divorce, as we’ve already mentioned. Most commonly, people negotiate separation agreements with attorneys on both sides. Even then, the process can look different, depending on whether you negotiate back and forth between letters or emails, or participate in judicial or 4 way settlement conferences.

Since most family law work is billed on a time expended basis (meaning, that you pay the attorney’s hourly rate to do work on your case), how long your case takes will ultimately determine how much it costs. Depending on attorney’s experience, reputation, or firm association (yes, some firms are more expensive than others!), the hourly rate can vary – and that’s something you would do well to consider when making the decision about whom to hire. (Because you almost certainly won’t be able to get him to pay for it!)

You can even draft and negotiate an agreement yourself, without an attorney! (Though, if you do that, I’d be careful, too, and follow these guidelines.)

So, what does it cost on an uncontested basis? Mostly, here I am referring to people who hire attorneys and negotiate their agreements, and I see it range from $2,000 to $8,000 or so. That’s not a science; it could cost less, and it could cost more. But that’s a reasonable range for these types of cases.

Doing it yourself could technically cost less – at least up front! But if you have issues later on (or if you’ve agreed to something that ends up not being in your best interests), it could easily cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s not just a function of what an attorney costs, in terms of dollars and cents. It’s a question of your attorney getting you what you’re entitled to and minimizing the possibility of future litigation.

So, although it’s wise to consider costs – especially in terms of retainer agreements and attorney hourly rates and your options for alternate dispute resolution – cost shouldn’t be the only factor you consider. You want to get divorced, but you want to get a good divorce. Right?

A contested divorce – one where you can’t reach an agreement with your husband – costs more. How much more? It’s impossible to say.

A contested divorce case can run the gamut, depending on what issues are involved and how complicated each is.

The biggest wildcard issues are child custody and spousal support. But, of course, it depends on how truly complicated each issue is. Just because you can’t agree doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be impossible to resolve fairly easily. But, of course, it could be complicated, too!

There’s a difference between a retainer and the total overall costs of the case, too, and it’s important that you don’t confuse the two. Usually, a retainer for a contested divorce starts somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000-7,500, but it could go upwards from that. Still, the billing is actually based on time expended – just like in an uncontested case – so total overall costs can be different.

It’s probably reasonable to expect your case to cost a minimum of $20,000, if it’s contested, and you can’t resolve issues. But it’s not uncommon for a contested divorce to cost a whole heck of a lot more than that. Probably most of our contested cases are somewhere in the $30,000-80,000 range, though I understand that represents a very wide range. I’ve seen plenty that cost more than that, though, and at least one that was $400,000+.

It’s hard to tell ahead of time what a case will cost. I get conflicting information all the time. “My case will never settle!” and “This one should be easy!” are things I hear all the time, that may or may not have a real basis in reality.

Often, a case will settle eventually – but depending on how long it takes to get to that point can really impact the costs.

The question ‘How much is a divorce?’ isn’t a simple one. It’s one that is impacted by a lot of factors. The case-related factors can be wild cards, but so too can be the difficulty of your husband, and also of the attorney he hires. On the day that you come in for your initial consultation, we may not even know all of the pieces of the puzzle, so it can be difficult to guesstimate.

It’s a good idea to have a real, honest conversation with your attorney relatively early on about your means. Talk about financial goals, and concerns. It is expensive? I think that depends on how you define expensive, but, in a lot of cases, I think what’s truly expensive is trying to avoid working with a professional in your divorce.


We often minimize costs for our clients – both in the sense that we can help them get what they are entitled to receive (even if they don’t know what they’re entitled to) and that we minimize problems later on. It’s not a perfect science, but having someone in your corner who is familiar with the laws and the Virginia court system is invaluable.

To schedule an appointment to talk one on one with a licensed Virginia divorce attorney about costs in your case, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.