Divorces are messy, time-consuming, and costly. The state where you file for divorce, the complexity of your marital estate, and how successfully you can work with your soon-to-be ex-spouse resolving issues pertaining to your divorce will play a role in the overall cost of your divorce. The more issues you fail to reach an agreement on, the more likely you are to face higher than average costs.
Hourly Costs of California Divorce Attorneys
Generally speaking, a family law attorney will charge between $300 and $365 per hour in California. Divorces can be time-consuming, the shortest time is usually eight months while the longest time is generally 20 months. On average, a divorce takes approximately 15 months between the initial filing and the divorce being finalized. This time may be longer or shorter depending on whether some issues can be resolved before going to court. When a couple has children, the overall proceedings may also take longer. Couples should anticipate costs of between $17,000 and $26,000 for the total cost of a California divorce. It is important to review some reasons why divorces can take so much time.
California Divorces and Property Division
One of the first issues a divorcing couple will have to contend with is property division. California is a community property state which means any assets (or debts) accumulated during the marriage are property of both spouses. However, there are some things you should be aware of which can change the “value” of your marital estate including:
- Sole property – any property which one spouse had prior to the marriage is considered sole property of the spouse who had the property. Additionally, any settlements reached in personal injury cases, inherited assets, or gifts given to one partner remain the sole property of the spouse and are not considered community property.
- Property covered by pre or post-marital agreements – some couples sign prenuptial agreements, or enter into similar agreements after they are married. Any property which is explicitly mentioned in a valid agreement as belonging to one spouse or the other would be honored by the courts.
- Commingled property – if one spouse worked in a company prior to marriage and they were earning funds in a pension plan, the amounts deposited prior to the marriage, and after the couple was separated would be considered sole property.
- Property obtained after separation – any property (or debt) accumulated after the couple is no longer cohabitating would belong to the partner who acquired the property.
As you can see, resolving property disputes is not always straightforward, even with community property laws. Additionally, if one or both spouses have an interest in a business, or they have a very high combined net worth, the process could be even more complicated.
Child Custody and Support Issues Impacting California Divorce Costs
While parents feel they must act in the best interest of their children, in nearly all divorce cases there are disagreements over child custody. These disagreements result in divorces getting delayed and increased costs. Should the issue of child custody need to be decided by the family court, there are a couple of options which the judge has. These include:
- Legal custody – legal custody impacts the decisions which are made for the child including health care, education, and where the child lives. Legal custody may be awarded to one parent or both. If both parents are awarded legal custody, they will make decisions about important issues after consulting with one another.
- Physical custody – this impacts where the child will live. Like legal custody, physical custody may be awarded to both parents. This does not always mean the child will spend the exact amount of time with each parent, but there is a mutual agreement on when the child spends their time and the time between parents is divided as equally as possible.
Once custody has been determined, then the matter of child support must be addressed. Legally, both parents are expected to contribute to the financial welfare of a child. Various issues such as the age and health of each parent, earning capacity, and other factors will be taken into consideration when calculating support. When physical custody is awarded solely to one parent, the non-custodial parent generally pays child support to the custodial parent.
Contested Versus Uncontested Divorces
Another factor which will play a significant role in the final cost of a California divorce is whether the divorce is contested. Contesting the “notion” of divorce seldom occurs because the court is unlikely to stop a divorce where one spouse is determined to move forward. Generally, once a spouse has made that decision, there is no turning back. Contested divorce usually means the couple cannot agree on issues including child support, custody arrangements, visitation and parenting plans, or spousal support. When this happens, a judge will make those decisions on behalf of the couple.
Keep in mind, if a divorce is contested, versus the couple working out most issues before going to court, nothing is really final. Appeals can be filed if one spouse adamantly disagrees with a specific ruling such as who has legal or physical custody, or the judge orders the marital home to be sold and one party does not want it sold, or a judge orders spousal support and the person ordered to begin paying support contests the ruling.
Divorces Are Fraught With Problems Clouded by Emotions
Divorce is never easy, whether a couple has been married five years or five decades. Regardless of the circumstances, emotions often get the best of the involved parties. The more issues which are contentious, the more complicated, and therefore the more expensive a California divorce proceeding will be.
Whether your spouse has just informed you they are filing for divorce, or you are planning to file for divorce, you should seek assistance from a certified specialist in family law in California. Contact a family law attorney who has experience handling all types of divorce cases as soon as possible. Working with an experienced lawyer can help you save money and time, particularly if you can agree with your soon to be ex-spouse on some major issues.