Cost of Divorce in California

Woman on a pier holding her husband’s wedding ring

The divorce process can be stressful and expensive. In California, the amount you spend on your separation depends upon which procedure you select and how long it drags out in court. To ensure a favorable outcome, proper financial preparation beforehand is essential. So to help you do that, I put together an overview of the current costs of divorce in California, the factors that can make it more expensive, and a few tips to help you save as much as possible. 

What You Can Expect To Pay for a Divorce in California

The cost of divorce in California has become increasingly expensive, and many people have no idea what to expect. According to a recent article, the current average for a divorce in California costs more than any other state at a 37% higher rate due to their cost of living. You can anticipate paying an average of $17,500 (without kids) up to $26,300 with children involved.

Though the cost significantly increases for families, the real issue lies in how couples approach the process of filing for divorce. Ultimately, how expensive a divorce becomes relies heavily on whether you choose to litigate through the court system or negotiate an amicable settlement out-of-court. Particularly lengthy divorces can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars due to court and lawyers’ fees.

Knowing all this beforehand and creating a plan based on your situation can help you avoid potential bankruptcy or financial hardship. And in many cases, it is more beneficial to reach an agreement with your partner outside of a courtroom and save costs where possible. In this manner, both parties can gain something from the process without expensive litigation.

Which Divorce Option Costs More

Woman at a restaurant contemplating divorce

In California, the cost‐effectiveness of filing for divorce is a primary consideration. The cost of a contested or Traditional Dissolution of Marriage versus an uncontested one depends on the circumstances. Typically, an uncontested divorce or Summary Dissolution is cheaper and less complicated when compared to a contested dissolution since no court intervention is required.

Couples can initiate the process of filing an uncontested divorce in California with the following conditions: the duration of the marriage is less than five years old, there are no children, no assets, and debts do not exceed $6,000 (excluding auto loans). Property value can not exceed $41,000, and couples must agree to waive spousal support. Additionally, there must be no ownership of any real estate, and residential lease terms must expire within 12 months from the start of filing. The filing of a joint petition is required, but lawyers can be involved to provide legal advice if needed.

On the contrary, a contested divorce involves court proceedings for each family law issue (child support, custody, and division of marital property). In scenarios where parties are aggressive against each other, each party would require a lawyer with expertise in divorce cases. That can cost substantially more than an uncontested divorce in which the spouses agree on all their matters related to the dissolution of their marriage.

Factors That Can Influence the Cost of a Divorce

Often during divorce proceedings, the emotional levels are so high that people fail to account for every possible factor that could make a dissolution of marriage extremely expensive. In California, some common factors that add to the cost of divorce include deciding how to divide expensive property, joint businesses, or assets, managing large amounts of debt, and disagreements over financial resources such as investments.

While the complexity of each case and the assets involved are unique to each situation, it is wise to remain amicable when dealing with your spouse from start to finish. Not just during the initial process of filing for divorce. When couples can not agree on matters such as alimony, or if there is contention over child custody or visitation rights, the divorce can become increasingly expensive. In these scenarios, the cost will continue to rise if there is a need for expert witnesses or other resources required to ensure a fair and just outcome.

In addition, the process may also involve extra expenses for accountants, mediators, financial advisors, or property evaluators who help to determine what is acquired by both parties in the divorce. Ultimately, this arduous process can be heartbreaking for individuals, especially when money is the focal point. Therefore you must understand and evaluate every possible scenario you may encounter to determine the cost of a divorce in California.

The Process of Filing a Divorce in California

Man in a suit filling out divorce forms

Before you begin the process of filing for a divorce in California, it is imperative to understand both the cost and requirements involved with this endeavor. First, you need to decide whether or not you need to pursue a Traditional Dissolution of Marriage or opt for a Summary Dissolution instead. Additionally, gather all necessary financial records such as bank statements, loan documents, credit card statements, pay stubs, and more during the initial stage so your case will run smoothly.

After you decide which option is best for your situation, it is time to obtain and fill out the necessary forms to file a petition for Dissolution of Marriage and complete the appropriate financial disclosure forms. You can acquire these forms online or visit your local County Clerks office to initiate the process of filing for divorce.

In certain circumstances, there may be a legitimate concern that domestic violence may occur. If that is the case and you need to protect yourself and your children, it is wise to file a restraining order and court orders for asset disposal, child support, and temporary spousal support. Once you have filed all court orders and the process has started, notify your spouse about the intent of your divorce proceedings.

Tips To Reduce the Costs of a Divorce

The process of filing for divorce in California can be expensive, but there are steps you can take to reduce these costs. One tip is to try and keep the amount of communication with your lawyer to a minimum. Many lawyers charge for every point of contact via e-mail or phone, so keep that in mind when reaching out. Before contacting your lawyer, list all questions or concerns to ensure every detail is ready for discussion during the conversation. By preparing a list, you can address all topics in one session instead of multiple communications with the attorney.

Also, being able to provide detailed documentation and paperwork makes it easy for attorneys to review and decreases the chances of anything being missing or left out. So, take extra time to organize all documentation and, if necessary, include notations to highlight vital information for your attorney and keep expenses to a minimum. If crucial documents or pertinent notes are left out, it will cost you more in the long run. 

Finally, it may be beneficial to consider alternative methods such as mediation or a collaborative divorce, where attorneys work together to settle. If both parties are amicable, these methods can be very efficient and significantly impact the cost of filing for divorce in California. By following these tips, you can give yourself peace of mind knowing that your divorce proceeds in the most cost-effective manner possible.

As you can see, divorce can be expensive if not handled properly. If you need help navigating this complex process, contact me for a consultation today. Having been through a divorce, I have experienced unethical practices, and I work hard to ensure my clients never fall prey to predatory tactics like overbilling.

About Michael MacNeil

Michael C. MacNeil is a San Diego Family Law and Criminal Defense attorney. With a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, MacNeil has a solid understanding of our justice system. As a member of the State Bar of California, MacNeal can practice before all courts in the state. MacNeil believes that the law should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. With over 20 years of experience, Michael C. MacNeil is passionate about the law and will work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you. Call Mr. MacNeil at 858-922-7098.