How Much Does A Contested Divorce Cost?

Cost of a contested divorceWhen we speak with individuals going through a contested divorce, one of the first questions we’re asked is always “How much is this going to cost?”—and it’s a legitimate question!  We’re always looking for ways to help our clients have realistic expectations while striving to avoid a significant financial burden.

Divorce can become costly and financially overwhelming, and there are several factors that go into how much a divorce will cost.  Although cost is circumstantial and each divorce case is unique, it’s important to understand those factors in order to save as much money as possible on your divorce matter.

What is a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce is just that—it’s a divorce in which one or more parties disagree on some aspect of their divorce, such as spousal maintenance, child custody, the division of assets, etc.  Contested divorces take longer to complete than uncontested divorces and will also cost more due to the disagreements and arguments between the parties on the issues which may end up having to proceed to Trial for a Court to decide ultimately.

Throughout the duration of a contested divorce, there are many factors at play that will impact how much the divorce will cost.  Below we’ve compiled the most common costs incurred during contested divorces and what you can anticipate those to look like for your matter.

How much does a Contested Divorce cost?

filing a contested divorceFiling Fees

For all individuals filing a divorce, there will be filing fees due to the court.  For example, in Maricopa County, two filing fees are required in every divorce case:

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage – $349
  • Response/Answer to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage – $274

For individuals unable to pay court filing fees, you may request a deferral or waiver of the filing fee.

Other common expenses during a divorce:

Aside from filing fees, there are other expenses you may incur while going through a divorce.  Some of those may include:

  • Service fee: The divorce petition will need to be served on the opposing party, and if you use a process server you will incur their fee.  The average cost of a process server is about $50-$75 per service attempt.  Therefore, if it takes multiple attempts to track down the individual, the cost would multiply.
  • Parenting Courses: If you and your spouse have minor children, you will each be required to complete a one-time Parenting Information Program, which is a 4-hour class that costs $50 or less. 
  • Expert Evaluations: In a highly contentious, complex, or high-asset divorce, experts may need to be retained to do a number of different evaluations to assist in the discovery process.  These may include:
    • Mental Health evaluations
    • Forensic Financial evaluations (often a $5k retainer)
    • Custody evaluations (often a $10k retainer)
    • Business valuations
    • Appraisals

The Cost of Hiring a Divorce Attorney

If you’re looking to retain an attorney to represent you, they will determine a retainer fee based on the facts discussed during your initial consultation.   Retainer fees, as well as attorneys’ hourly rates, will vary between law firms and often between attorneys within a single law firm.

During an initial consultation with a divorce attorney, you’ll discuss the facts of your case to determine next steps and overall goals for your legal matter.  Those may include issues such as:

  • The division of community assets or debts – who gets what?
  • Spousal Maintenance: — is one party eligible to receive spousal maintenance? How much and for how long?
  • Issues involving children – legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, etc.
  • The level of contention between the parties – how many issues are you able to agree on? How many issues will be contested?

It is very important that you are honest and forthcoming with pertinent information while discussing your case with an attorney.  Your honest communication will allow them to fully and accurately assess your legal rights, needs, and options, and it will greatly serve you through the end of your divorce.

Although your divorce attorney will quote you a retainer fee and may give you a ballpark estimate for how much your divorce may cost in the end, it is only an estimate— they cannot give you an exact dollar amount or timeframe.  There are many factors in a divorce that could have an impact on the costliness of your case—some of which you or your attorney may or may not be able to control.

How to Save Money During a Contested Divorce

Come to as many agreements as possible with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. 

The more you can agree and settle on various issues in your divorce, the less time-consuming and expensive your case will be!  Long, drawn-out arguments involving lawyers and court appearances will drastically increase the cost of your divorce matter.

If you’re particularly struggling to agree on issues related to your children, click here to find our recent article filled with tips for resolving parenting disputes.  

Conserve resources by grouping your questions for your attorney.

Through the duration of your divorce, you will likely have many questions about your case or the divorce process.  Your attorney is here to help you and we always want to be sure you have the answers you need. 

It’s important to remember that your communication with your attorney will be billed hourly— luckily, there are ways you can make the most of the time you spend communicating with them.

TIP: If you have an important, although non-urgent question for your divorce attorney, start a list!  At the end of your day or week, group those questions into one email to your attorney OR schedule a phone call for you to discuss them all at once.  Clear, concise, and efficient communication will save both of you time and will save you money on your attorney’s fees.

Cost factors you can’t control:

The Opposing Party – As much as you may wish you could, you cannot control your soon-to-be-ex-spouse and what they might do during your divorce that prolongs the process.  We can hope they will be responsive, timely, and agreeable, but they are ultimately responsible for how they handle their side of the divorce.

Opposing counsel – The attorney on the other side of your divorce can make a big difference in terms of how quickly and efficiently you are able to settle your case.

Court timelines – The speed with which your court hearings are scheduled depends largely on how many cases are in the court’s lineup.  Arizona family courts are currently experiencing a backlog of cases as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the number of cases on their docket fluctuates with time.

TIP:  The more you can settle on outside of court, the less you will have to depend on the court’s timeline for completing your divorce.  This is another point in favor of you and your spouse coming to agreement on as many issues as possible!

Contested Divorce in Arizona

A contested divorce can be costly and time-consuming, but you’re not alone.  Our attorneys at OWENS & PERKINS are just a phone call away and are here to guide and support you throughout your divorce. Schedule your FREE 30-minute legal consultation today by clicking here or by calling our office at 480.994.8824.