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What is the Cost of a California Divorce? Maybe More than You Think

Getting a California divorce can be costly. You have been across from that colleague at lunch who was completely unprepared for their surging attorney fees. Who doesn’t have a friend who describes their California divorce as a pit they keep throwing money at? The divorce is the first stage. Just wait until you throw in your protracted custody battle. Your mounting costs can grow to astronomical proportions.

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty. Let me just prepare you a bit. There is a whole range of ways that your divorce can go. Some of these are your choice and some of them require some finesse with your soon-to-be ex spouse. However, what you will notice is that you have power to make many of these decisions and keep your cost at a manageable rate, especially if you can both agree up front how you want the basics handled.

What does a California Divorce cost

  1. Doing it yourself: The filing fees, alone, can appear daunting for some of us. In California, each county gets to decide for itself how much they want to charge you to file your divorce. The range is usually between $250 and $450. In San Diego County it will cost you $435 to file. However, don’t be fooled…it will cost your spouse another $435 to respond. Your total just rose to $870 and you both will still need to master the paperwork which can be overwhelming. As an attorney, most of my clients made the attempt to do it themselves. It didn’t work out so well and they found themselves in my office.
  2. Paralegal/Document preparation: I hesitantly place this second because for the full round of document prep, including the judgment, it can tie with the next option. This is when you and your spouse are in full agreement regarding every aspect of your divorce and you just want the forms filled out and your wishes memorialized, formally. This can be a great option….if you both agree. The cost usually ranges anywhere between $500 to $1500 and usually does not include that pesky $870 in filing fees. Also, you will most likely have to file all paperwork and serve necessary documents yourself.
  3. Mediation: Hello friends! This is your best option, by far. First, it is available to you whether you are in agreement or not. Mediators are trained to assist you in creating a future that you both feel good about. If you find a great firm, like Pacific Coast Mediation, they will be full service. That is, for the cost of the mediation, you will also have all documents necessary for a California divorce prepared, served, and filed for a flat fee. Mediation can run you around $3000+, per person, depending upon the complexity of your case. However, that cost usually includes the filing fee. The best part is that because you and your spouse reached the agreement together, people, generally, follow the dictates of it, as opposed to a judgment thrust upon them by a judge.
  4. Attorney fun: I say that tongue in cheek because up front, your attorney is likely to ask for a $5,000 retainer, maybe more. Then, they are going to ask for you to pay your own filing fees on top of that. That is when things get crazy. Attorneys make money on how litigious you are. That is, the more conflict and chaos in a divorce, the more they get paid. To be sure, most family law attorneys don’t want chaos for you. However, they are going to advocate for you in court. That costs money. And….you never know what the outcome will be. You will be forced to accept the ruling of a third party, the judge. The only power you have, in this scenario, is your pocketbook. Pick the best attorney and keep funneling money at them because you, likely, will blow through that retainer with the first court visit. Even then, you never know. I have seen the best family law attorney lose cases to the young guys, despite how many facts you have that support your position.

In the end, my advice is to mediate your case. It is cost effective and works. Even if you think you and your spouse will never agree, you will be surprised. Make choosing the option of mediation, the first and most important agreement you reach, thus far.