–by Sam Darling, Divorce & Family Law Lawyer
Virtually everyone getting a divorce (called a ‘marital dissolution’ in Washington State) wants to know how much it will cost to hire an attorney. Divorce services come in two basic price-categories: contested and uncontested. This article provides cost information on both, to the extent available. On a related note, our firm has published separate articles on how to keep your divorce lawyer’s fees low and what to do if you cannot afford a lawyer for your divorce, which you can find by clicking the links in this sentence.
1) Cost of Uncontested Divorce
We should begin by defining the term ‘uncontested’. In this context, uncontested means the parties (husband and wife) settle at the outset of the case. By way of further clarification, it does NOT simply mean the parties agree to a divorce. To be uncontested, the parties must reach agreement on EACH AND EVERY TERM AT THE DATE THE DIVORCE PETITION IS FILED. This is because an agreed petition (petition and joinder) delineates the terms of the settlement, such who receives what assets, who pays what debts, and the amount of alimony.
If the divorcing parties meet this criterion, they are in luck (in a sense)—an uncontested divorce is much less expensive than the contested variety. Most agreed divorce services in Washington State charge between $500 and $700 including the $300+ court filing fee. Our firm recommends an agreed divorce service named Peaceful Separations, which charges closer to $700 including the court filing fee. We recommend Peaceful Separations because they seem to do the job right, whereas many other agreed divorce services botch the paperwork in our experience. We have no affiliation with Peaceful Separations; this is our unbiased opinion.
2) Cost of Contested Divorce
As you probably gathered, contested divorces can be expensive—very expensive. The cost is also difficult to predict, because it depends on how hard each party fights. Many contested cases begin as skirmishes but end as wars. The harder the parties fight, the more hours the attorneys bill and the more expensive the case becomes.
A self-help website named Nolo performed a survey indicating the national average for a contested divorce is around $19,500 per party, largely in attorney fees. A similar Nolo survey for Washingtonians put the average around $13,400. But it seems Nolo’s methodology contained flaws that skewed their statistics downward by almost half, particularly for Washington. Nolo’s average for Washington did not filter out uncontested divorces, and the survey participants were all from Nolo’s self-help site (bargain hunters).
A 2006 Forbes article estimated most contested cases in the US cost between $15,000 and $30,000 per side. Adjusted for inflation, that means contested cases would presumably average between $17,600 and $35,300 in 2015. The halfway point of this range would be $26,450 per divorcee. Another Forbes article, published in 2015, estimated most contested divorces cost between $5,000 and $50,000 per person, putting the halfway point at $27,500.
Absent any more reputable statistical studies on contested divorce fees in the United States or Washington State, it appears Forbes’s guesswork may be the best information available.
If you want to predict the cost of representation in your case, you might begin by comparing your attorney’s hourly rate to the national average, which is around $250 for a divorce lawyer. You could, in turn, determine whether your case is likely to be on the high or low end of Forbes’ estimated range. For example, most divorce lawyers in the Puget Sound area charge between $250 and $350 per hour, which might make divorces in the Puget Sound slightly more costly than the national average.
You might further refine your prediction by factoring in the complexity of your anticipated case. If you and the opposing party have no dependent children together, your case will probably be less expensive. On the other hand, your case might be much more expensive if the parties are wealthy, with some well-to-do divorcees spending millions on attorney fees.
For more free articles, guides, and videos, we encourage you to visit our website’s ‘resources’ section located among the tabs at the top of this page. Or call us at 866-631-0028 to speak directly to one of our firm’s divorce lawyers. We pride ourselves in providing stellar representation at substantially lower hourly rates than other firms in the Puget Sound.