“How much does a divorce cost?”
This is a burning question that’s often asked of family law attorneys and divorce mediators.
It’s no secret that divorces can be expensive, often leaving spouses financially depleted long after the divorce process concludes — but it doesn’t have to be this way.
The fundamental factor that influences divorce costs is the process chosen to complete the divorce. While litigation typically results in a costly, adversarial divorce war, divorce mediation is a cost-effective process that helps separating spouses collaborate while reaching their best agreements.
Whether you’re pursuing an amicable separation or facing a contentious battle, knowing what to expect financially is critical.
This article delves into the various costs and major financial factors involved in divorce in Arizona. We’ll examine attorney fees, court fees, and additional expenses, empowering you to make well-informed decisions about your future.
What major factors influence the cost of divorce?
The cost of divorce varies depending on several factors, including the specific circumstances of the case and the resolution method used. Understanding how these factors play out can help you more effectively navigate your options.
The complexity of the divorce case
Complex divorce cases, such as those that involve multiple properties, business interests, or substantial debts, typically require more time and expertise to resolve. This translates to additional legal services and professional consultation costs.
In such cases, divorce mediation can be a cost-effective process (especially one that supports flat fees) to reach a mutually acceptable solution.
The presence of minor children
Divorce cases that involve minor children require special considerations and legal processes. Parents prepare a “parenting plan” that addresses issues including:
- Legal decision-making authority/child custody arrangements
- Parenting time/visitation schedules
- Child support calculations
- Child expense sharing
In litigation, these issues typically stir up conflict, prolong the divorce process, and increase the overall costs involved.
On the other hand, mediation encourages collaborative decision-making that prioritizes the children’s best interests — and ultimately costs significantly less than a contentious child custody battle.
Through mediation, spouses can develop customized parenting plans and maintain an amicable co-parenting relationship.
The existence of significant assets
When significant assets are involved in a divorce, the case becomes more complex, and the divorce cost typically increases.
Assets may include:
- Real estate properties
- Retirement accounts
- Bank accounts
- Business ownership
Valuing and dividing these assets requires careful evaluation and, in some cases, the involvement of financial experts.
In a litigated divorce, each party may hire their own experts who engage in an expensive discovery process, leading to much higher costs. However, in mediation, spouses can jointly hire a neutral financial specialist, reducing their expenses and helping to ensure a fair division of assets.
Conflict between spouses
Conflict significantly increases divorce costs, and litigation often aggravates it, leading to prolonged legal battles and substantial attorney and court fees.
In extreme litigation cases, divorce proceedings can last over two years and cost as much as $100,000 per spouse.
Conversely, mediation offers a structured, supportive, and non-confrontational environment in which spouses can reach agreements quickly and amicably.
And choosing a mediation firm that uses the flat fee model provides even more advantages by drastically reducing legal fees.
Moreover, spouses who are already in the middle of litigation can switch to mediation at any time.
What is the average cost of divorce in Arizona?
The average cost of a divorce in Arizona is between $15,000 and $20,000 per spouse — $30,000 to $40,000 total when a case is litigated with attorneys in court.
In comparison, the average cost of a divorce mediation in Arizona is between $2,000 and $4,000 per spouse.
Divorce costs vary substantially depending on the circumstances of the case and the resolution method the spouses use.
In Arizona, divorce costs in court generally depend on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested.
Contested vs. uncontested divorce costs in Arizona
In a contested divorce, spouses are unable to reach agreements on issues like child custody, division of assets, or spousal support. This results in drawn-out legal battles and higher overall costs.
With attorney fees, court fees, and expert witness costs, spouses can expect total divorce expenses ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 (or higher) per person – depending on the case’s complexities.
An uncontested divorce, on the other hand, is more straightforward and cost-effective. Spouses simply agree on all divorce terms and submit a divorce petition for dissolution of marriage to the court.
Uncontested divorce expenses typically include court filing fees, document preparation fees, and divorce attorney fees if the spouses seek legal counsel. As such, total costs generally fall under $10,000, depending on case-specific issues and the spouses’ need for legal assistance.
Regardless of whether a divorce is contested or uncontested, using divorce mediation as a resolution method or collaborative divorce reduces these estimates.
Whether spouses have an amicable relationship and a willingness to cooperate or are experiencing significant conflict, a communication breakdown, or mistrust in one another, flat-fee divorce mediation is the best option for a swift and cost-efficient resolution.
Litigation costs: $15,000–20,000 per spouse for an average case
The more conflict between spouses, the more time attorneys will spend working on a case. More time equals more fees. As a result, most divorce attorneys estimate that for a relatively straightforward case with moderate conflict, modest assets, and children, the average cost of divorce in Arizona is $15,000–20,000 per spouse.
When conflict escalates (which occurs often in litigation), the case can last a year or more and result in costs that easily soar over $50,000 per spouse. If these cases go all the way to a trial, where a judge determines the outcome of all legal issues, final costs can exceed — and in many cases, far exceed — $100,000 per spouse.
Wealthy spouses aren’t the only ones paying this level of divorce debt. Spouses with modest assets and average incomes are also affected.
Too many people wind up using the proceeds from the sale of their home — their one major asset — to pay their attorney legal fees rather than receiving the benefit of the sale due to unnecessary fighting.
Divorce mediation: 80–90% less expensive than litigation
Divorce mediation offers a more affordable, cost-conscious resolution than the potential six-figure price of litigation.
Case in point: some sources report that a mediator costs between $3,000 and $8,000 on average, while others report the total costs of a mediated divorce at $6,000.
In the mediation process, your mediator will either charge hourly, like an attorney, or charge a flat fee for the entire process. Either approach will result in spouses paying less compared to the cost of litigation.
Attorney fees: large retainers and hourly billing
If spouses decide to use divorce lawyers to complete their divorce, they’re choosing to go to court.
Having chosen the “court process,” spouses will be advised to cease direct communication with one another. The divorce attorneys will then communicate on the spouses’ behalf. This accounts for substantial misunderstandings that lead to increased conflict and, thus, increased fees.
In Phoenix, Arizona, and surrounding Maricopa County, like other major metropolitan areas, attorneys generally require an initial “retainer” fee for their services. A retainer is a large, upfront payment to guarantee that attorneys have a minimum amount from their clients. Retainers typically range between $5,000 to $15,000 per spouse, as each spouse requires representation.
Attorneys then bill hourly against the retainer. As they work, billing hourly, the amount of the retainer dwindles. The attorneys control how much time to spend on your case and how quickly they use your retainer.
The average attorney fee is between $350 to $500 per hour. Once the retainer has been used, you’ll be required to replenish it back to its original amount. The attorney will then continue billing against the retainer for time spent on your case until the money runs out.
Attorneys and mediators who charge hourly are likely to bill for any time spent on your case. This includes all the time spent with you, but the vast majority of your fees will be incurred behind the scenes. When your attorney writes you an email, reads a text from you, or even makes copies of your documents, they’re billing you for that time.
If it’s related to your case, the fee clock keeps running for every moment your attorney or their assistants spend on these tasks. This includes drafting documents, making phone calls, researching issues, driving to and from places, and waiting during long courthouse delays. As long as their actions relate to your case in any way, you’re billed for it.
Breaking free from the hourly billing system
Many mediators with backgrounds as career attorneys or judges continue to use the hourly billing system. But, there is a growing trend to break from traditional attorney billing practices since mediation is rooted in different goals and values than those in litigation. That said, spouses can still get legal advice during mediation from trusted lawyers who support mediation.
The mere existence of a system that demands large retainers and hourly billing, where attorney fees grow as long as conflict exists, isn’t beneficial to families. Research shows that children of all ages are emotionally harmed when parents fight during their divorce process. Thus, any fee structure that may incentivize aggression isn’t ideal in a family law context.
Divorce professionals should be free from the subconscious or unconscious motivations to promote conflict between divorcing spouses. Fee structures should be “motivation-neutral” from the mediator’s perspective and must support a process where efficient and amicable divorce is encouraged.
Legal fees should also be as predictable as possible to avoid undue financial hardship. Predictions or guesstimates, often wind up being inaccurate. Divorcing spouses are placed at a disadvantage when halfway through the process, they have exceeded the fee they were originally quoted.
Divorce mediation: the flat fee solution
We are strong proponents of the flat fee approach. It’s a fundamental problem when professionals earn fees based on the time they spend working on a case. In litigation, lawyers financially benefit when conflict escalates, and a lengthy divorce case ensues. The longer a case drags on, the higher the fees climb.
At The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation in Scottsdale, Arizona, we inform potential clients, at their free initial consultation, of their total flat fee for their mediation process, from beginning to end. This includes all mediation meetings, document drafting, emails, phone calls, memos, editing of documents, signings, travel to and from the court for the clients — everything related to their case. Spouses know the cost before they even begin the process.
The Aurit Center is committed to providing a healthier option for your divorce process. Our experienced mediators explain the law and guide you both through thoughtful and productive conversations.
We help you reach agreements on all of the important issues of your divorce, including the division of debts and assets, property division, and spousal maintenance. If children are involved, we also help you create a comprehensive parenting plan that addresses child support, legal decision-making, and child custody.
Be sure to ask potential mediators or attorneys about their fee structure when you interview them. If a flat fee is offered, ensure it covers the entire mediation process from the first meeting to the drafting of your consent decree.
Flat fees that don’t include emails, phone calls, and research or only include parts of the process are a red flag. Be sure to ask about how hourly rates apply in addition to other fees.
Court filing fees and additional expenses
Court filing fees are required to complete the divorce or the legal separation process.
The court fee to be paid at the beginning of the process is the petitioner’s fee. In Maricopa County, at the time of writing, this fee is currently $349. The Respondent’s fee, which is due when the decree of dissolution of marriage is filed, is currently $274. In the Summary Decree Process utilized by the Aurit Center, the one and only court fee is $426.50, a savings for Aurit Center clients of $196.50.
These fees fluctuate over time and by county, so it’s strongly recommended that you ask your mediator or lawyer for current pricing.
In addition to court filing fees, divorcing spouses may need to pay additional costs for the following:
- Monthly child support
- Monthly spousal maintenance
- Breach of fiduciary duty claims
- Waste claims for reimbursement
- Division of property and debt
- Extra costs related to court appearances
It’s important to note that divorce attorneys charge by the hour to address each of these issues. However, a mediator who uses the flat fee model will charge a single amount that covers all divorce costs, including case-specific concerns.
Gain insights into divorce costs
The divorce resolution method you use will be the principal factor that influences your divorce costs.
While litigation can result in six-figure costs and escalate conflict, mediation offers a more affordable and collaborative experience.
With divorce mediation, you and your spouse maintain greater control over the divorce outcome. You allocate your shared resources toward rebuilding your lives rather than exhausting them on costly legal fees.
Before starting mediation, remember to ask about the fee structure. Doing this ensures that the billing system is fair and aligns with your needs and circumstances. It also guarantees a predictable cost scheme throughout the divorce process.
Divorce professionals should provide simple, straightforward, and honest answers to your billing questions. In the end, the most important factor — regardless of whether a mediator uses an “hourly-billing” or “flat-fee” model — is the level of trust you have in their ability to guide you through the process and treat you fairly regarding fees.
For more insights into divorce costs in Arizona, schedule a free consultation with the Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation today.