In a recent article on the CBS news website, California was listed as the most expensive state to get a divorce. California has the highest filing fee in the nation ($435) and at $402 per hour, California has the third-highest average hourly billing rate in the U.S – only Connecticut and Illinois are higher at $417/hour. Compare this to the least expensive state to get a divorce, Wyoming, where the filing fee is $70 and the average hourly billing rate is $187.
Getting a divorce is expensive for many different reasons. Complex divorce cases, where there are significant or complex business interests or assets, are expensive because clients need to hire experts and consultants to help to understand the extent of the community estate or a support payor’s income. Highly contested custody cases are expensive because they are heavily litigated and require the assistance of several outside professionals such as mediators or evaluators. Then there are the cases that are expensive because one or both of the parties is not being cooperative. This lack of cooperation can result in a case costing 5 to 10 times more than it should.
There is no way to estimate what a case will cost and trying to do so is not fair to your client because your best estimate is only a guess. (There are of course some attorneys that take family law cases on a flat fee arrangement, but that has a whole other set of problems.)
There are some expenses that are set in stone. These are the fees that are charged by the court or are fees set by your attorney or their vendors for services. The fees charged by lawyers usually involve court reporter fees, courier fees, fees to serve documents, copy costs, etc. All firms are different so you should discuss the fees charged by your attorney or their vendors so that you know about them in advance.
The following is a list of statutory fees charged by the Court in a typical Divorce or Paternity case in San Diego. The amounts are controlled by statute so they are subject to being changed. For a full list of fees charged by the Family Court visit the website.
Petition for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or nullity…$435
Response to petition for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or nullity…$435
First paper in family law matter other than dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or nullity…$435
Petition for adoption (for each person to be adopted)…$20
Motion or order to show cause (now called “Request for Order”)…$60
Additional charge for Request for Order to modify or enforce custody or visitation…$25
Stipulation and order not requiring a hearing…$20
Costs for stepparent adoption, including investigation…$700
The remainder of your expenses will generally be generated by your attorney’s hourly billing rate. Your attorney should provide you with an itemized billing statement at least every month. You should never feel bad about discussing your bill and the charges with your attorney. I welcome client’s calls about their bill (a discussion I never charge my clients to have), because an attorney client relationship should be built on trust and open communication. This should include your case and your billing account with the firm.
Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.