If you’re not prepared, a divorce will cost you more than you expect. With over 50 percent of the marriages in the U.S. ending in divorce, chances are good that you or someone you know will need to shell out for one at some point.
Here’s what you need to know about:
- How much divorces can cost, around the country and in Maryland specifically
- What drives up the costs of divorces – and how you can avoid them
- How to keep a divorce as inexpensive as possible, even if you retain a divorce attorney
Average Divorce Costs in the United States & Maryland
Short answer: The average divorce costs $15,000 per person in the United States.
Maryland comes in a little lower than the national average, ranging from $11,000 to $13,500.
This average cost of divorce includes:
- Attorneys’ hourly fees
- Court filing fees
- Other expert fees – such as paying for discovery professionals to sort through documents, special couriers to transport letters, etc.
Notice that attorney fees are charged on an hourly basis. This hourly charge means that the longer your divorce drags on, the more it will cost. For reference, the average divorce takes between 4-11 months without a trial, and over a year with a trial.
On average, decent Maryland lawyers charge a minimum of $260 per hour. The fee is largely due to the more expensive metropolitan areas where lawyers tend to keep their offices. (Consider the cost of living around Annapolis, Bethesda, or Baltimore.)
All things considered, divorces can cost you a year’s worth of college tuition. Make sure you’re doing all you can to keep the price down!
>>READ MORE ABOUT DIVORCES IN MARYLAND<<
How Maryland Divorces Get Expensive
Maryland divorce costs can quickly skyrocket when you consider:
- Court filing fees
- Extended negotiations & potential contested divorce trials
- At-fault divorces
- Any divorce involving a child
Divorce Expense #1: Your Filing Fees
At the bare minimum, you’ll need to pay the court just to file for divorce. In Maryland, the filing fee is about $215, depending on the county you’re filing in.
Most lawyers include this fee in their initial retainer – the first deposit of money you make toward your divorce so lawyers can start working. So, don’t worry that you might end up paying for filing twice. They’ll take care of the paperwork for you.
Divorce Expense #2: The Cost of Negotiations & Contested Divorces
The next place a divorce can quickly become expensive is during negotiations.
Divorcing couples often can’t agree on fundamental issues such as child custody, alimony, or division of assets. These disputes become expensive due to the time your lawyer must spend on depositions – questions another party must answer – and collecting documents needed to support your side of the case.
If you can’t get your ex-spouse to the negotiation table, then you’ll need to pursue a whole other set of procedures. These procedures are time-intensive – and remember, lawyers bill based on how many hours they spend on a case. Little things quickly add up.
That’s just the cost before going to court. During a contested divorce, a couple’s issues may only be resolved by divorce trial.
Trials get expensive, fast. On average, couples whose divorce cases go to trial spend close to $20,000 to complete their divorces, with at least $15,000 of that amount going to attorney’s fees.
Trials sometimes incur the costs of expert witnesses, too, who also charge hundreds an hour.
Due to trials’ time and expense, Maryland family law judges require couples to do everything they can to reach an agreement outside the courtroom. Couples who settle their cases outside of court will pay closer to $15,000, bringing their attorney’s fees to a lower average of $12,000.
Divorce Expense #3: Surprise At-Fault Divorces!
Fault divorces tend to be more costly than no-fault, simply due to the nature of the split. An at-fault filing usually means that the marriage didn’t end of natural causes – e.g., infidelity or abuse.
Divorces like these tend to be less amicable. The accuser may feel entitled to more than half of the assets, whether out of recompense or revenge. Usually, that demand is a tough pill for the other party to swallow.
As a result, we don’t recommend trying to do an at-fault divorce on your own. We feel attorneys are definitely necessary for this one.
Divorce Expense #4: Minor Children
Divorce costs also go up if there are children involved – again, due to the complexity of the needed discussions. Visitation, custody, and child support all need to be decided before a divorce can be final.
If necessary, your lawyer may suggest hiring a child custody expert to shore up your case and make sure your child is okay throughout the process. That hire will also, of course, cost money.
How to Lower Your Divorce Costs
To lower your total divorce costs, you’ll need to hire a attorney and move as quickly and smoothly as possible.
The least expensive divorces are ones in which:
- You and your former partner agree on everything
- The marriage was short – a year or less
- No assets or bank accounts are shared, even apartment leases
- No children are involved, and especially not children under age 18
Even if you think you hit most or all of these points, it is very rare for a divorcing couple to agree on everything. In cases like this, it is best to just leave it to a divorce attorney. Retaining an attorney may cost more upfront, but it should save you thousands in the long run.
How Hiring an Expensive Divorce Attorney Saves You Money
For example, a sneaky way that separations become more expensive is if the wrong type of couple is using mediation. Couples who agree on most things can – and should! – employ a neutral third party to oversee their divorce.
However, when arguments arise and no lawyer is there to defend your side, it becomes a spitting match where nothing gets resolved and you’ve thrown money down the drain.
Mediators can either charge per hour or per session. Either way, the more you rack up meetings without conclusions, the more costly it’ll be. And, if you forget something, you’ll need yet another session – which means it pays to retain a lawyer to pay attention to the details.
If you end up signing a separation agreement that you don’t like, you can renegotiate. However, this renegotiation simply adds more costs to your previous divorce… which you were trying to avoid in the first place.
A lawyer knows what to look for in contracts and how to logically argue a point of view. They can take bear the brunt of all the details a divorce requires during an extremely stressful time.
Hiring a lawyer doesn’t need to be extremely expensive, either. Remember, lawyers bill for time. If you and your partner can decide outside of court what is best for both of you, you’ll avoid unnecessary trial lawyer fees. Maybe you can agree on most things, and then go to a lawyer or mediator for one or two disputes. It’s not an “all or nothing” strategy!
Faster Divorce, Less Money
Aside from simply hiring a good divorce attorney from the get-go, anything you can do to speed up the process – like discussing beforehand or applying for an uncontested divorce – can dramatically lower costs.
Whatever route you and your ex-partner end up taking, we hope that you both have a smooth, inexpensive journey toward your new lives.
If you’d like to see how you can keep divorce costs to a minimum – or if it’s time to bring in the legal guns to fix a costly tangle in an ongoing situation – just give us a call. We’re here to help.