Costs of Divorce
How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Georgia?
Most people know that divorce can be very expensive, but how much does an average divorce cost? You'll find that divorce lawyers can rarely give you an accurate figure and will often answer this question by saying "it depends". For any contested divorce, the honest answer is that it is very difficult to determine the total costs of divorce up front. The reason why an attorney cannot provide an accurate estimate up front is that many of the factors that contribute to the legal costs and fees associated with a divorce case are outside you or your attorney's control and sometimes arise unexpectedly. For example, the litigation plan may call for more depositions and discovery than normal. Some parties may need to hire private investigators and/or forensic accountants to help look for hidden assets to ensure full disclosure and division of assets. Sometimes custody disputes rise to such a level that both parties feel the need to bring in additional experts to help their case. The reasons go on and on. This is a big part of why divorce can be so expensive. Although providing an accurate estimate of all costs up front is not possible, anyone considering divorce should be familiar with the typical costs associated with a contested divorce.
How Much Does Hiring a Divorce Lawyer Cost?
What are the typical attorney fees for divorce lawyers? Each divorce case is unique with its own facts, issues and complexity. The more complex your case is, the more time it will take to resolve. If it takes a while to get resolved, it will likely be expensive. This is why Divorce lawyers rarely give an exact quote up front. As a result, divorce lawyers typically collect a "retainer" amount upfront. The lawyer will then bill from that retainer amount and you won't be contacted with a bill until the retainer runs out. Lawyers bill by the hour and less complex cases take less time. For less complex cases, the divorce can sometimes be completed for the just the cost of the initial retainer. In a more complex case, you will have to replenish the retainer when it runs out. Think of a retainer as a downpayment.
How to Save Money on Your Divorce
Some of the costs of divorce are outside of the control of you and your lawyer (ex: county filing fees), but many costs will be within your control. There are certain actions you can take that will end up saving you money on your divorce in the long run. Divorce doesn't have to be super expensive if you know how to keep your costs down. Feel free to read some of our divorce cost saving tips below.
Communicate Efficiently With Your Divorce Lawyer
Cost Saving Actions and Choices
Provide & Gather All Relevant Information
Communication with your attorney is critically important. However, calling or e-mailing your attorney everyday to talk can get pretty expensive. As mentioned above, lawyers bill by the hour. Hours and hours of phone conversations and e-mails can add up and end up being pretty expensive. Make sure you communicate efficiently. Think about writing down your questions beforehand so you don't miss anything or stray too far off topic. Try to accumulate a list of several questions and call once rather than calling each time you have a question. Remember not to use your lawyer as a therapist or another ear to bend since you might end up incurring unnecessary expenses.
There are certain things you can do or choices you can make that will help you save money on your divorce. First, make sure you fully understand your lawyer's fee schedule. Be aware of how much retainer you have left and what the lawyer's hourly rate is. You also want to make sure you understand what lawyers won't bill for. Some lawyers will charge a cheaper flat rate or not bill you at all for smaller tasks like answering short e-mails, making copies, printing documents etc. Make sure your divorce attorney gives you case plan that fits your finances. If you are struggling with your finances and your attorney has you on an expensive highly litigious case plan - you will likely not be able to pay your final bill when the case is over.
One of the most expensive parts of divorce is the formal discovery process. The formal discovery process is where the lawyers involved will formally requests and exchange information. This process can happen over several weeks or even several months. Since lawyers bill by the hour, it is obviously more expensive to have your lawyer obtain important documents through formal discovery requests. You can save a lot of time and money by gathering those documents yourself beforehand. Ideally, you would obtain most of the necessary documents yourself for free (banks statements, pay stubs, mortgage documents, etc.) and turn them over to your lawyer after the first consultation. This would eliminate the need for the lawyer to formally request these materials. Doing this early on can actually save hundreds if not thousands in some cases.
How much are Divorce Filing Fees & Court Costs?
One of the costs that's outside of your control is the filing fee that must be paid to the Clerk of Superior Court when filing for your divorce. The amount of that filing fee varies from county to county in Georgia. For example, Fulton County's filing fee is currently $219.00 and Gwinnett County's filing fee is currently $214.00 (note that these amounts will vary from year to year).
Additional Costs of Divorce
Service fees vary based upon whether you have the sheriff serve a complaint (with a current cost of approximately $50), a private process server, or are required to provide legal notice through publication in a legal newspaper. These fees can range greatly from $50 to several hundred dollars (and on some rare occasions even higher if service of process is difficult because your spouse is avoiding service, etc.).
Depending upon the county your action is filed in, you may be required to attend mandatory mediation in a case. While this process is discussed more in our section "alternatives to trial," you should be aware that the mediators fees are in addition to your attorney fees and fees vary greatly and can range from $200-400 an hour. Fees for the mediator are usually equally split by the parties and often most mediation sessions take at least four to six hours. In some cases multiple sessions maybe necessary to resolve matters related to your case.
The need for experts in your divorce matter depends greatly on the issues of your case. You may also be required to pay costs related to any necessary experts consulted during your case. Experts may be used to provide testimony concerning child psychology, mental and physical abuse, valuations of businesses or personal property, appraisals of real estate, and/or forensic accounting reports. Additionally, independent custody evaluators may be hired to perform a custody study or vocational experts may be necessary to determine what financial support is necessary and what a party is capable of earning. Be aware that many experts will charge by the hour similar to how attorneys bill.
Court Reporter Fees
If a case goes to a deposition, hearing, or final trial, court reporter fees may apply in addition to attorney's fees, as well as fees associated with subpoenas and witness fees. Court reporter's fees can be especially confusing to people not familiar with the legal system because you pay for a court reporters time just to "take down" what is being said and then you pay an additional (usually a per page fee) for the transcript of what was said if you need to order the transcript. These costs obviously vary based upon the length of time spent by the court reporter (both taking down what was said and the length of the actual transcript) and can range greatly from a few hundred dollars for a takedown only at a short hearing to in excess of a thousand dollars for ordering a transcript of an all-day deposition.
If you have minor children, most counties require both parents to attend a mandatory seminar regarding the impact of divorce on children. In most areas, the cost of this seminar is around $50.00. For more information concerning the mandatory parenting seminar in your county, see our article entitled "Parenting Seminar."
Beyond attorney's fees, there maybe additional costs that are associated with your case, such as: copying, mileage and travel expenses, postage, and parking fees.
Lowering Costs of Divorce: Uncontested Divorce
Although it is true that contested divorce actions can become costly for both parties involved, there are certain steps that may be taken to lower the costs of Georgia divorce. One of those steps or alternatives is uncontested divorce. Uncontested divorce is where both parties agree on how all aspects of the divorce will be resolved. Uncontested divorce is. cheaper than contested divorce because it takes much less time to prepare and finalize.
With a huge library of resources that covers every aspect of divorce from start to finish. You've got questions, Meriwether & Tharp is here with the answers you need