Why Is Traditional Divorce So Expensive?

The Downsides of Courtless Divorce
May 30, 2024

Knowing What Drives Up Costs When Ending a Marriage Through Litigation

by Michael Heath

When a marriage falls apart it is most common for a spouse to sue for divorce, plunging the marital union into the litigation arena. The traditional divorce model may not only be the most typical approach to ending a marriage, but unfortunately is also the most expensive. Understanding why litigated divorce costs so much may help couples make better decisions when they decide to go separate ways.

Divorce Is Really Not Very Expensive  

Going down to the court and filing for divorce will not break the bank. Depending on the state in which the divorce is being filed, the cost to submit a petition for divorce can run from $50 to $450. The big money comes from legal fees and the hiring of any experts required to assist in bringing the marriage to an end.

Litigation Is an Inefficient Process

The very structure of litigation makes it slow-moving and costly. After a suit is filed and a response is made, each side goes through the laborious procedure of gathering and organizing information, known as the discovery phase. There is letter writing, researching, mailing, copying, filing, phone calling, reviewing, etc., all to build a case against the opposing side. Powers of the court such as subpoenas and depositions may be employed when necessary. These actions can be ruinously expensive while lengthening the entire process. There are also endless opportunities for tit-for-tat requests and responses that do little to move toward substantive results while increasing billable hours.

An additional cost is the emotional toll that litigation can have. It is an inherently adversarial process that often exacerbates already simmering resentments. This is especially true in divorce litigation where years of irreconcilable differences were the very reason that the marriage fell apart.

Twice Is Not So Nice

When spouses move forward with a traditional divorce, each hires matrimonial attorneys who are supported by their own legal staff. When there is trouble resolving a specific dispute such as child custody or the selling of a business both sides are likely to bring in experts to support their positions. This two-sided, grinding process may result in a negotiated settlement or force the couple to face a judge in court.

Litigation As a Last Resort

The plodding, pricey process of divorce litigation should make it a much less attractive option than courtless mediation or collaborative divorce. In some situations, such as domestic violence or threat of absconding with the children, a spouse must immediately seek out a family attorney and begin litigation. In cases where the marriage has broken down irreversibly because spouses no longer get along, they should first consider an alternative to litigation that is more efficacious. Courtless approaches such as mediation and collaborative divorce save money, take less time, and tend to be less emotionally charged. When couples remain in control of their divorce by employing one of these processes, they step into the future on much better footing.

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