The Cost of Divorce in California: What You Need To Know

When it comes to divorce costs in California, a little understanding can go a long way in saving you money.

California has a reputation for high costs, and divorce is no exception. The cost of parting ways can get out of control fast, leading many spouses to feel overwhelmed.

This article will break down the average cost of a standard divorce in California, the different factors that impact that cost, and ways to minimize the amount you’ll have to pay. By the end, you’ll feel more confident and prepared in choosing the most cost-effective and beneficial separation process.

How much does it cost to file for divorce in California?

California’s court filing fee for a divorce ranges from $435 to $450. This filing fee is the only amount you would pay for a divorce if there are no disagreements or issues in dispute. Some divorcing spouses might qualify for a divorce fee waiver in California, which can reduce the filing costs to zero.

In cases where there are no disagreements or issues between spouses to resolve, the entire cost of a divorce can be limited to the filing fee.

It’s a popular misconception among separating spouses that they have to hire divorce attorneys. But, that is rarely the case.

Conflict is natural during a separation. But fortunately, there’s a better way for spouses to resolve disagreements that doesn’t involve high-priced attorneys.

Woman sitting on the beachUltimately, the cost of a divorce in California will depend on whether and to what extent divorce attorneys are involved.

The average cost of divorce in California

The average cost of divorce in California (including legal fees) is approximately $17,500 (or $8,750 per spouse) — higher than the national average of $15,000 (or $7,500 per spouse).

If you’re wondering why that’s so much higher than the $450 filing fee, it’s due conflict.

While disagreements over child custody, parenting time, and marital property are common during a divorce, resolving them in the courtroom can significantly increase the cost of the divorce process.

Now let’s discuss in more detail how these factors can impact the cost of a divorce in California.

What factors impact the cost of your CA divorce?

Several factors can impact the cost of a divorce in California. Keep in mind that every situation is unique, so the details can vary depending on your specific situation.

Legal fees

Divorce attorneys in California charge a great deal of money for their services. The more disagreements arise, the more time your attorney will have to spend on your case and the more it’ll cost you.

Family law attorneys often have hourly rates of $300 or more — and that’s usually on top of a $10,000 retainer. So, it’s easy to see how divorce attorney fees can quickly add up.

When spouses choose to complete the divorce process in court, a judge will ultimately decide the terms of their divorce agreement. So unfortunately, even if you can afford to pay $20,000 or more in legal fees, there’s still no guarantee of a favorable outcome.

Because of these high costs and the adversarial nature of court battles, more and more spouses are choosing mediation for a more amicable divorce or legal separation process.

Mediation offers spouses a more affordable, effective, and collaborative divorce process.

“Rather than leaving your future in the hands of a judge, mediation allows spouses to find solutions that work best for their families.”


Most parents’ top concern is their children’s well-being during the divorce process. Settling child custody arrangements or disagreements over parenting time in litigation can lead to a long, drawn-out custody battles.

Involving attorneys can lead to contentious child custody battle, as they often resort to making personal attacks and accusations. Not only is this a difficult and emotional experience, it can be time-consuming too.

The more time attorneys have to spend on your case, the more they’ll charge you. Settling custody disputes and parenting matters in litigation can increase the cost of a California divorce to $26,300, on average.

Picture of child’s hands building a tower using Lego-like blocks.Property disagreements

California follows the community property system, meaning all marital assets and debts acquired during the marriage are generally considered jointly owned. However, determining the division of property can become contentious.

Property disputes may arise regarding:

  • which spouse till remain in their shared residence
  • the valuation of assets such as real estate or investments
  • the classification of certain assets as community or separate property.

Just like how settling custody matters in litigation can get expensive, settling property disputes in litigation can also significantly increase the cost of a divorce.

The types of divorce

The type of divorce, or divorce method, refers to the legal process by which the marriage is dissolved.

Depending on the circumstances, types of divorce in California fall into one of three following categories:

  • In a contested divorce, the parties cannot agree on at least one issue.
  • In an uncontested divorce, both parties agree on all matters.
  • summary dissolution is available to parties who have been married for less than five years without children, need spousal support, and very little property or debt.

For more information on California divorces, read our article on the different divorce types in California.

“Whether you’re facing a contested or uncontested divorce, the mediation process can save time and money.”


Alimony is a court-ordered provision of financial support from one party to the next. Alimony payments aid financially dependent former spouses, either permanently or for a temporary period of time.

Permanent alimony is typically awarded when one spouse cannot support themself adequately after the divorce due to their age, health concerns, or a lack of employable skills.

Temporary alimony provides immediate financial support until a final settlement is reached.

How to file for divorce in CA

The divorce process in California follows four steps:

Picture of man wearing a suit, tie, and jacket filling out a formStep 1. Fill out the forms

First, the divorce must be filed using these forms:

  • Petition (FL-100): This form includes basic information about your marriage and statements on spousal support and property.
  • Summons (FL-110): This summons tells your spouse they have 30 days to respond.
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)/(Form FL-105): This form tells the court where your child(ren) was/were born, where they live, and whether other court cases relate to them.

There might also be additional forms you need from your local court clerk.

Step 2. Share financial information

Both parties must disclose their financial information and provide documentation of their income, expenses, assets, and debts within 60 days of filing a petition or response.

You might need to share information a second time during a final disclosure. You can also waive these disclosures if you and your spouse both agree.

Step 3. Work with your spouse to reach an agreement

Reaching agreements on child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, and property division is essential.

There are two possible scenarios:

  1. You and your spouse work on the issues and reach an agreement together, or
  2. Spouses aren’t able to reach an agreement and the matter is ultimately decided by a family court judge.

So basically, if spouses can’t come to a decision on their own, the judge decides for them. Working together leads to more successful agreements that spouses are likely to stick to.

“A collaborative approach to divorce, such as mediation, facilitates more productive discussions and minimizes conflict between spouses.”

Step 4. Submit the final paperwork

Once all decisions have been made and documented, the final paperwork is submitted to the court. Here are some forms you can expect will be included in this paperwork:

  • Judgment (FL-180): This is the final court order to get a divorce.
  • Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190): This official notice confirms that your divorce is legally recognized.
  • Notice of Rights and Responsibilities (FL-192): This form lets you and your co-parent know about changing child support orders and requesting help to pay for child healthcare.
  • Child Support Case Registry Form (FL-191): This form details your child support case.

Additional orders might also be included, depending on your unique situation.

5 tips for reducing the cost of a divorce through mediation

Aside from being emotionally challenging, completing your divorce process through the courts can be financially draining as well.

In mediation, spouses can avoid paying tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees; plus, they’re the ones in control of their divorce terms.

Man holding small, white piggy bank while wearing a suitIf you want to save money by using a mediator for your California divorce, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Educate yourself on the mediation process

Understanding the mediation and separation process can save you money. Familiarize yourself with California’s divorce laws and the mediation process to know what to expect. Knowing what’s ahead will allow you to make informed decisions and avoid unnecessary expenses. For example, research how much it might cost to pay off debts and close bank accounts.

A professional mediator acts as a neutral third party to help spouses work together resolve disagreements. The mediator helps keep the conversation on track, and may also touch upon areas you have yet to consider.

2. Understand your potential mediator’s fee structure

To minimize expenses, look for a mediator with a successful track record and a flat rate fee structure. Some mediators might offer pro bono services for people struggling financially.

Reaching agreements with your spouse in as many areas as possible before entering mediation is also helpful. This approach requires effective communication and a willingness to compromise, but it can save you a significant amount of time in the long run.

3. Avoid litigation

Hiring a divorce lawyer and going through a court battle can be expensive. So, if at all possible, opt for mediation over litigation.

Mediation facilitates constructive communication and negotiation between both spouses. The spouses work together to resolve critical issues in a neutral environment. This method is almost always more cost-effective than litigation.

If you’re considering completing your divorce process without the stress and cost involved with going to court, The Aurit Center can help. Our experienced mediators specialize in guiding spouses through the divorce process and helping them reach fair and mutually beneficial agreements.

4. Be ready to compromise

It’s important for both spouses to be prepared to compromise.

It’s highly unlikely that you and your spouse will each get everything you want in the divorce settlement. By allowing spouses to work together, mediation can help save time and money — not to mention help minimize the emotional toll of the divorce process.

“Mediation helps spouses navigate the divorce process in a confidential, supportive setting that fosters cooperation and prioritizes their family’s well being.”

Child walking while holding hands with both parents.Ultimately, readiness to compromise makes it easier for spouses to work toward a mutually beneficial agreement.

5. Find a mediator that prioritizes your child(ren)’s well-being

For parents, one of the most important topics discussed in mediation is the well-being and upbringing of their children.

A professional mediation can help facilitate a more open an honest discussion that ensures both spouses have a say in important decisions affecting their kids’ lives. Addressing each other’s concerns and finding common ground helps parents come up with a parenting plan that suits their children’s needs.

Mediation helps co-parents reduce conflict, provide the best possible environment for their children, and remain active in their children’s lives.

Mediation offers a more peaceful, smoother path to divorce

Divorce can be complex and emotionally challenging, but understanding the costs can help the spouses minimize the financial burden.

While legal advice from an experienced and trustworthy attorney can be invaluable in certain situations in life, divorce is rarely one of them.

Mediation can help spouses minimize conflict and retain control over the divorce process. Even in contested divorces, most issues in dispute can be successfully resolved without going to court.

In almost all cases, mediation offers a far more effective and affordable solution.

To find out how mediation can help you through your divorce, schedule a free one-hour consultation with The Aurit Center today.

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