Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law Attorneys: Our Blog

Please Follow Our Blog, LIKE US on FACEBOOK and RETWEET Our Articles!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How Much Will My Divorce Cost?

A new client had just come in to see a famous lawyer.
"Can you tell me how much you charge?", said the client.
"Of course", the lawyer replied, "I charge $200 to answer three questions!"
"Well that's a bit steep, isn't it?"
"Yes it is", said the lawyer, "And what's your third question?"

As expected, I get this question on a daily basis. First of all, I can only quote what I charge. Frequently, in divorce cases, you will need to hire other professionals - such as forensic accountants, appraisers, child custody evaluators, counselors, etc. Even just for my services- here is my answer - which never changes - IT DEPENDS.


One. Lawyers, like most professionals, are high hourly workers. The product I sell is my time. You are paying for my time by the hour, which is charged in increments of 6 minutes. Thus, if you call me for 5 minutes, you are charged .1 (or $30). If your phone call is 7 minutes, that equals .2 (or $60).

Two. Unless it is a flat-fee case (possible if there are no contested issues), the more time I spend on your case, the more expensive it will be. The amount of time I spend on your case depends on you, your spouse, your spouse's attorney, and the issues involved in your case.

Keeping these two points in mind, I will now refer to my article, The Purpose-Driven Divorce, to prepare some price estimates.

Purpose: To get the process started.

California is a “no-fault” state. This means that either spouse may file a divorce
without proving someone is at fault (i.e. cheating, physical violence, etc.). Thus, in
order to start a divorce, one party simply files a Petition for Dissolution. Currently,
this petition costs $320 to file.

After the petition is filed, the party who filed it must serve the other side with the
papers in order to notify them that a divorce proceeding has been filed. I highly
recommend that prior to serving the divorce papers, you notify the other side. We’ve
all seen the video footage of the crestfallen face of Kevin Federline, who allegedly
discovered via text message that Britney filed for divorce. Divorce is difficult enough.
If there is any room for courtesy, apply it.

After the other side receives the papers, they have thirty days to respond to the
Petition by filing a Response. The Response currently costs $320 to file. If they do
not file a response within thirty days, the person who filed the Petition (called the
Petitioner), may request a default judgment. In this case, they will generally receive
everything they ask for in their papers. (with some exceptions which you must discuss
with an attorney).

In California, Judgment is entered no earlier than six months after the date the
responding party (called the Respondent) is served with papers. Why six months?
This is the waiting period created by the Legislature to encourage reconciliation. It is
also a period where you can obtain all the financial information you need before
entering into an agreement. Obviously, if you can get divorced as quickly as you can
get married, our society would have greater problems than it already does.

After the initial Petition is filed, automatic temporary restraining orders (ATRO’s) kick
in. They apply to both the PETITIONER and the RESPONDENT. Some examples of
ATRO’s are the following: 1) cannot remove minor children out of state; 2) cannot
take benefited party off of insurance; 3) cannot transfer, convey, encumber, or
conceal property; 4) cannot create probate transfer without notice. The purpose of
ATRO’s, amongst other things, is to prevent angry parties from absconding with the
children out of malice, and to waste away all community assets in order to spite the
other side.

Filing and serving divorce papers is the first step. It is by far not the last step. To get
a Judgment, you must keep going.

Attorney time: 5 -20 hours ($1500 - $6000)
Process Server: $40 - $500

Court Costs: $400
Time Factors: Is the case new, or has it gone through several attorneys and collected 1000 boxes of documents? Is your spouse cooperative, or difficult to the bone, requiring private investigators to stake-out and serve him? Are there children? Are there properties? Have you reached any agreements about anything in your case?

Purpose: To have a sense of peace and order by having temporary orders in writing pending the Judgment.

Because it takes six months (or longer) to obtain a Judgment, in the interim, some logistics must be sorted out. For example: Who stays in the house? Who pays for the mortgage? If you are the supported spouse, will you get your living expenses paid for? What about spousal support? If you have children, who has custodial rights? What about child support?Because your questions need immediate answers, it is wise to get an immediate court date in order to resolve these issues. You get a court date by filing an OSC. This stands for “Order to Show Cause”, and can resolve issues of Child Custody/Visitation, Child Support, Spousal Support, Attorneys’ Fees, etc., pending the issuance of a Judgment. Currently, this costs $40 to file.Filing an OSC does not mean you are trigger-happy, and immediately racing to court to win. Remember: At all stages of divorce, you always have the option to reach an agreement with the other side. You are always in control of whether you want to go to court or not. Usually, if you reach an agreement, you can file it the Court. Usually, the Judge will agree with you, and even commend you for settling. There are certain exceptions, of course. For example, in California, you can never totally take away the Court’s power to rule on child support. It is always a good idea to file an OSC when issues of custody/visitation and support arise. Again, it takes six months or longer to obtain a Judgment. In the meantime, both parties should desire temporary orders for peace of mind.Of course, if both parties have been separated for a long period of time, and are self-supporting, and have no children, there may not be any issues to be resolved pending the Judgment. In this case, I would opt to forgo the OSC. Although the orders obtained through use of an OSC are called “pendent lite” (Latin for “while the case is pending”) temporary orders, in some cases, they may end up being the permanent orders incorporated into the Judgment. This is especially true in custody cases, because “status quo” is favored, and the longer a “temporary order” stays in place, the firmer a “status quo” arrangement becomes. It is essential to understand the important role of an OSC.

Attorney time: 10 - 30 hours ($3000 - $9000)
Court Costs: $40 per motion
Time factors: Are you cooperative and return my phone calls? Do you cooperate with my requests for documents? Are you immediately available to meet with me to go over the specifics of your case? Are you able to revise your declarations and promptly return to me? If you have witnesses, what is their availability, and do they cooperate? Is the other side represented? Is their representation well-versed with family law procedure and protocol? Does the court hearing conclude in one day? Does it get continued?


Purpose: In a high-conflict divorce and custody case, to protect the parties and children involved.

Unfortunately, sometimes, after a divorce or custody case is filed, someone gets angry and becomes physically or emotionally violent. This is particularly troublesome if there are minor children involved. In order to protect yourself, it may be vital to obtain a temporary restraining order against the other side.Temporary restraining orders (usually lasting no more than 20 days) may be granted without a full evidentiary hearing (based on declaration alone). Since they are granted based on one party’s declaration, they are set for hearing, where the Judge will take evidence from both sides before entering an Order for a longer restraining order. (lasting up to five years).In California, there is a rebuttable presumption that an award of custody to a perpetrator of domestic violence is detrimental to the best interests of the child. Because of the weight this carries, restraining orders are often abused in custody cases. It is essential to immediately consult with a competent family attorney if you are experiencing domestic violence in your case.

Attorney time: 15 - 40 hours ($4500 - $12,000)
Court Costs: $40 per motion
Time Factors: Domestic violence restraining orders are extremely important and take a lot of preparation. Preparation time includes setting up the case, interviewing witnesses, taking statements, preparing declarations, speaking with police officers. Are the court appearances on calendar ,and do they take place without delay? Does the Judge have time on his calendar to hear all witnesses? Do the witnesses appear? Does the other side have witnesses? Have you anticipated all issues that could be raised at the hearing?

Purpose: To Reach a Fair Settlement, and Ensure the Settlement Is Not
Later Overturned Due to Lack of Disclosure.

Frequently in relationships, one person knows more about their finances than the
other. California is a community property state. This means, all property acquired
after the date of marriage, before the date of separation, except for gift and inheritance,
is community property. Community property assumes the notion that even in
relationships where only one spouse works, the other spouse is contributing to the
marriage by staying at home and providing domestic duties.

Sometimes, the spouse that doesn’t work stays at home and does nothing. In a
community property state, that doesn’t matter. The law assumes they are contributing
something. Thus, in a divorce, both parties are entitled to half of what was earned
during the marriage.

Because of the community property laws, the law mandates that both parties must
make extensive financial disclosures. Generally, they will come in two parts – the
Preliminary Declarations of Disclosures (served at the outset); and the Final
Declarations of Disclosures (prior to settlement or trial). Because one party may know
more than the other, these mandatory disclosures are the court’s way of preventing
foul play. You must exchange disclosures. You cannot waive them.

If you are the supporting spouse, you may wonder: What happens if I don’t disclose
my assets? He or she does not know of my offshore bank account in the British
Virgin Islands.

There are several consequences to not disclosing. The Judge may overturn your
agreement. The Judge may punish you by awarding the non-disclosed asset to the
other side. In a famous 1996 case against non-disclosure, Marriage of Rossi, Denise
Rossi won $1.3 million in the California State Lottery. 11 days later, she filed for
divorce, from her 25-year marriage, never telling her husband. Judgment was
entered. 2 years later, her ex-husband discovered that his ex-wife had won the
lottery. (They always find out.) He filed a Motion and the judge gave the ENTIRE
$1.3 million dollar lottery winnings to the husband, since the wife had intentionally not
disclosed her winnings in the divorce proceedings.

Always disclose.

Attorney Time: 10 - 50 hours ($3000 - $15,000)
Costs of subpoenas, documents: $500 - $1500
Deposition costs: $2000 - $5000
Court Costs: $40 per motion
Time Factors: Discovery is perhaps the most tedious process in a divorce case. If you have little or no assets, there should be very little to work on. However, the more assets or debts you or spouse have, the more time we will need to obtain documents necessary to determine the value for settlement, and the more time we will need to review the received documents. If your spouse is uncooperative, we may need to file court motions in order to obtain necessary documents. The time it takes to complete discovery depends mostly on the cooperation of the parties and the availability of the documents.

Purpose: To Get the Judgment Finalizing your Divorce Case

After disclosures have been completed, it is time to start negotiating settlement. For
example, who will keep the house? How much support will you pay? And for how
long? Who will have the children for Christmas or Hannukah this year?

Because both of you have completed full and thorough disclosures, you are both now
in a good position to discuss settlement. It is a good idea at this time to simultaneous
request the court for a trial date. I do this for my clients because with a looming trial
date, both parties are more eager to resolve the case. In addition, if settlement
discussions fall apart, there is already a trial date set in the future, so as not to delay the
dissolution. Other attorneys prefer not to do this, so they will have more time to
prepare for the trial.

If you reach an agreement, you can file a Stipulated Judgment, or a Marital Settlement
Agreement (MSA). The difference between both is that in addition to being attached to
the Judgment, the MSA is also a contract, and if either party breaches it, you have an
additional remedy – to sue for breach of contract.

Once the Judgment is stamped by the Judge, you should receive a Notice of Entry of
Judgment, which gives you a date of divorce. Only when this piece of paper has been
filed is your divorce final. Congratulations!

Of course, in divorce cases, nothing is final. You may always file for Modification,
but there are legal standards you must meet before the Judge will grant you one.
Please consult with a competent family attorney.

If case settles:
Attorney Time: 5 - 20 hours ($1500 - $6,000)
Time Factors: How cooperative are the parties?

If case goes to trial
Attorney Time: 50 - 200 hours ($15,000 - $60,000)
Time Factors: Trial is no joke. You will be paying for the attorney's time day in, day out. - this includes prep time, trial time, review time, prep time...round the clock. It is not unusual for an attorney to bill 10-15 hours a day for trial. My mentor once had a trial lasting 22 days. I think it helps to think of trial as an hourglass with your money as the sand...

In conclusion, a divorce case can run anywhere from $1820 (uncontested divorce) to hundreds of thousands of dollars. There's always Britney Spears, who paid over 1 million to her attorneys for her custody case, and Larry Birkhead, who paid over $600,000 to his attorney.

Yes, lawyers are expensive. But if you find the right one, they're worth it.


Houston Divorce Lawyer said...

Kelly, that was an excellent post. I am a family law attorney in Houston and that is the number one question that I get. As you pointed out, it depends.

Yours is the best and most detailed explanation of why the cost of a divorce can vary so dramatically. I was so impressed with your post that I added you to my blog roll and wrote a post about your post here:


P.S. I also loved the Price Is Right video at the bottom!

Anonymous said...

Great to know about this..

Thanks for sharing....
More Movies More Fun & Entertainment

Arizona foreclosures said...

Kelly, that was an excellent post. I am a family law attorney in Houston and that is the number one question that I get. As you pointed out, it depends. Personal Injury Attorney Houston

Elison Duncan said...

Divorce Cost is depend on case. Divorce cost is not consider because of how much time get to the judgment.

personal injury lawyer

Best Lawyers said...

The cost of the divorce depends upon the case to which it can get long.It make take years and it may b done shortly. Best Lawyers USA

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this blog.I like this blog. really such an nice and decent information shared here with awesome. los angeles personal injury lawyers

Unknown said...

Bail bonds Raleigh offer our clients the best service at the lowest available bail bond rate in Raleigh. No other agency can offer a lower rate. In difficult economic times, we understand and are on your side. We do not add bond fees, travel expenses, or any “extras” that other agencies try to impose.

Unknown said...

You can always do research before hiring a lawyer whether he has a liscence or not.It could be risky if you just get the one you think is handy.Try to get the most experienced lawyer. They might have a hard time helping you with your case.Karen H Ross Law office

Unknown said...

A bail bond is a guarantee by a third party to pay the arrestee's bail. A bond is given to the court. If the arrestee fails to show up in court, the court keeps the bond. A bail bond generally costs about 10 percent of the bail amount.Bail bonds agents

Unknown said...

It’s my fortune to go to at this blog and realize out my required stuff that is also in the quality.business lawyers

Unknown said...

Every week-end I used to pay a fast visit this site, because I’d like enjoyment, because this web site conations certainly fussy material.Password Manager - LogmeOnce

Unknown said...

It's not my very first time to visit this blog; I’m visiting this daily and acquire superb info from here day by day.healthy lifestyles

Unknown said...

I really love your write-ups guys continue the good work.term life insurance rates for seniors

Anonymous said...

Fascinating information I haven’t been experienced such information in quite a long time. manhattan arraignment

Unknown said...

I even have been getting a lot of helpful and informative material in your web site.what does full coverage insurance do

Unknown said...

You have shared the best blog. This is what I really need immediately.cash advance loan

Unknown said...

The vital information in this blogs has allured me. payday loan stores in new york

Unknown said...

Most of the people pay $5000 for their divorce and but a divorce lawyer know more about such costs.

Unknown said...

One can also represent his/her own case in the court. Although, it is a risky procedure, still you can succeed in successfully winning your case if you have gathered up all the necessary facts and bring up the correct fact at correct time in front of the court. There are many drug lawyers or criminal defense lawyers from which you can also choose someone to represent you in the court otherwise.

Unknown said...

The writer understand better the mind of people what they want to learn through their writing therefore this article is outstanding. Thanks!!! Wampler & Souder LLC

Unknown said...

These blogs are valuable because these are providing such informative information for all the people. Find A Lawyer in Chicago

Anonymous said...

Life is never easy when your marriage is going through a rough phase. Thinking about divorce and its rigorous process makes the situation even worse. However, you can make things easier and better by availing the services of a reliable Divorce Lawyer Los Angeles.You can get more and more information from here-Divorce Attorney

Unknown said...

The Family Court in San Diego County, California requires parents in a custody dispute to attend mediation at Family Court Services (FCS). At FCS, the parents meet with a social worker who tries to broker a parenting agreement between the parties. However, if no agreement can be reached, the mediator makes a recommendation to the Court.You can learn more if you visit here: san diego child custody attorney

Unknown said...

As SK said Life is never too easy if your marriage life is disturbed.The better way to get rid from this is to have divorce , as if both doesn't want to live with each other.They need to do one thing , hire a professional divorce lawyer and sign all the legal formalities for divorce.This is true that one has to compromise in marriage life and if nobody want to compromise then leaving is the better option.

Unknown said...

I know this is quality based blogs along with other stuff.

Masood said...

New site is solid. A debt of gratitude is in order for the colossal exertion. lakelandlawyers.net

blogger said...

I contact Dr.Agbazara when i had of him and This was even faster than I could dream of. Thank you for taking time to listen to me and answering all my emails Dr.Agbazara. I feel emotional strong again. My confidence is back and I can see my future clearly now. I am forever grateful for your help in re-uniting me with my lover who divorced and left me years ago for another woman. you will see for your self what am saying when you contact this great spell caster called Dr.Agbazara on for any help at: ( agbazara@gmail.com ) OR call or add on WHATSAPP: +2348104102662 ) and get your problems solved.

Jones Morris said...

I high appreciate this post. It’s hard to find the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it! would you mind updating your blog with more information? BARCELONA

William said...

I am very thankful to you, That you have posted about laws. Nowadays, this topic is really very amazing to understanding. I appreciate your effort. I am eagerly waiting for more updates on Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.

10 Best Survival Foods said...

Hey there,

How is your marriage going? Be honest…how is it ACTUALLY going?

If you’re reading this e-mail right now, then chances are your marriage isn’t what it used to be… and maybe it’s so bad, that you feel like your world is falling apart.

You feel like all the passion, the love, and romance have completely faded.

You feel like you and your wife can’t stop yelling at each other.

And maybe you feel that there’s almost nothing you can do to save your marriage, no matter how hard you try.

But you’re wrong.

You CAN save your marriage — even if your wife says she wants to get a divorce. You CAN rebuild that passion you felt for one another when you first kissed. And you can bring back that love and devotion you felt for one another when both of you said, “I love you” for the first time.

If you feel like your marriage is worth fighting for, then do yourself a favour and watch this quick video that will teach you everything you need to know about salvaging the most important thing in the world:

=>Save Your Marriage Now (VIDEO)<=

In this video, you’ll learn the three critical mistakes that most couples commit that rip marriages apart. Most couples will never learn how to fix these three simple mistakes.

You’ll also learn a simple, proven “Marriage Saving” method that makes marriage counsellors look like kindergarten teachers.

So if you feel like your marriage is about to take its last few breaths, then I urge you to watch this quick video:

Make Your Wife Adore You Again ==> Fix Your Marriage – Start Making HAPPY Memories<=

You’ve got nothing to lose.

All the best,


PS. Just take 3 mins to watch the video.. if you don’t, you may miss the one tip that could save your marriage. Click here: =>Transform Your Marriage in Minutes<=