Frequently people ask me, “How much does it cost to get divorced?” My unsatisfying answer: it depends. Typically, the only fixed and required costs of divorce are the court filing fees. However, many people need professional assistance and additional costs may include attorney, consultant, and expert fees, as well as other litigation expenses.
Attorney’s fees in Arizona typically range from $200 per hour to $600 per hour. Flat fee representation is not the norm. While there is no reliable way to determine exactly how much any single case will cost from start to finish, an experienced attorney should be able to estimate at the initial consultation where on the fee spectrum a case will fall. To help determine the complexity and potential cost, a family law attorney will typically ask you the following questions:
- Are there children?
- Will either spouse be seeking spousal maintenance?
- Does the marital community have considerable and valuable assets such as money, stocks, property, cars, retirement accounts, life insurance, homes and other valuables?
- Does the marital community have significant deb including mortgage, student loans, credit card debt and personal debt?
- Does either spouse own an interest in any business?
- Will either spouse be unreasonable or attempt to threaten, harass, strong-arm, or bully the other party or children during or after the divorce?
If the answer is “yes” to one or more of these questions, and you anticipate a disagreement with your spouse, strongly consider hiring an attorney. The scope and subsequent cost of the representation can be tailored to fit a client’s budget.
Another question I frequently hear is “why do we need an expert for a divorce proceeding?” An expert witness or consultant is typically hired to help the parties, attorneys, and the family law court understand complex issues. Experts come in all shapes and sizes, including accountants, financial analysts and advisors, real estate professionals, appraisers, mental health professionals, and many more. They can, for example, value real estate, value an interest in a business, and opine as to whether desired parenting time and legal decision-making arrangements are in the best interests of the children. If neither children nor complex financial issues need to be addressed, it is unlikely that an expert will need to be hired. Experts typically charge by the hour and the total cost will depend on the complexity of the issue they are hired to address.
How can costs be minimized?
Clients, attorneys, and experts work together as a team. As the client, there are many things you can do to keep costs down:
- Communicate efficiently. Remember, attorneys and experts typically charge by the hour, usually in 6-minute increments. Every phone call, email, and meeting costs money. Clients who communicate with their attorneys and experts in a concise and efficient manner will save money. A good attorney will, early and often, coach you in that respect.
- Be reasonable. Never litigate out of principle or out of spite. Be reasonable in negotiations and stay open to compromise. If snags are hit in negotiations on any particular item or issue, ask yourself “is it worth the expense and frustration?” If not, give it up. The reward will be lower fees, lower stress, and making a good impression with the judge.
- Set realistic expectations. As discussed in our JW Way Fundamental #3, it is essential for your attorney to clarify and manage expectations throughout the case. But the client also plays a big role. If unrealistic goals and expectations are set for the client and their case, that puts the client at risk of spending a fortune chasing an outcome that was never realistic in the first place.
Disparate Income Between Spouses
It is not uncommon for one spouse to earn more money and/or control more money that the other in a marriage. This typically causes the lower earning spouse significant anxiety with a divorce around the corner. Let’s face it – we have all heard the stereotype that in litigation the “deeper pockets” are always at an advantage. That is not the case in Arizona dissolution proceedings. In Arizona, each spouse is generally entitled to half of the marital community’s liquid assets. For example, if one spouse has no access to a marital bank account(s), a motion can be filed with the court to request equal control and possession of the funds in that account. In addition, where there is a wide income disparity, the lower earning spouse can request the Court to require that the higher earning spouse pay for some or all of their legal fees.