"I want to resolve my divorce with as little expense as possible, and I've decided to represent myself to avoid heavy lawyer fees. How much will it cost me to get this done?"
We hear this question a lot, and the answer differs for everyone. Just how much will your divorce cost? Read on to learn about the expenses involved and how you might save some money.
To initiate your divorce, you must pay a basic filing fee. Call your county district clerk, or check your local county's superior court website to confirm the filing fees. The petitioner (who files the first document) and the respondent (who responds to the initial filing) pay virtually the same fees. Most of the time, additional filings cost nothing else, though exceptions exist. Wondering where the money goes? Your court fees fund courthouse operation costs, pay clerks and bailiffs, and provide equipment for trials and hearings. You can usually find a complete breakdown of fees online.
Uncontested vs. highly contested divorce
If your divorce is straightforward and uncontested, expect to pay the initial filing cost and perhaps a $20 fee for a final judgment, if done without a hearing. However, if the case is highly contested, expect to encounter multiple fees.
In a highly contested divorce, the priciest aspects (besides lawyer fees) involve fees for experts, counselors, or lawyers appointed for children. For example, the court may require a custody evaluation, psychiatric evaluation, drug/alcohol testing, or family counseling. It may also appoint a lawyer to represent the child's best interest.
If your income falls below a certain level, you may be able to avoid paying court costs. For example, you might qualify for a waiver if any of the following are true:
- You cannot meet basic household costs.
- Your gross income (before taxes and deductions) falls below a certain threshold.
- You receive governmental assistance (SNAP, welfare, and so on).
Your state has a form to request fee waivers. For example, if you're in California, ask the clerk for form FW-001. Other states will have a similar process. Fill it out, make copies, and file the form with the clerk, who can give you an idea of how long it will take to process. If your fee waiver application is granted, you won't have to pay filing fees and other associated court fees, such as for telephone hearings or court reporter costs. Fees associated with experts, counselors, and the like may also be waived. However, you must file more documents for the court to consider this.
Make honesty your policy
Anything filed with the court requires honesty, or it could be deemed perjury, which is a crime. Be truthful in every detail. If the court suspects you misled them, your credibility for more complicated requests – like custody – will be shot.
It helps to get along
You can improve your chance of lowering court costs by behaving reasonably and communicating clearly. This will result in fewer filings, fewer hearings, and a lower likelihood of additional experts being appointed. The more you and your spouse or partner can agree, the less the court must decide for you. In turn, this renders a more predictable (and inexpensive) court case.