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How Much Does Divorce Cost in California?

Divorce is almost always an expensive situation for everyone involved. The goal of any divorce agreement is to ensure an equitable distribution of a married couple’s shared property and assets and prevent exploitation. Each divorcing spouse will need an attorney, and some divorcing spouses will need to prepare for significant economic losses.

Divorce in California

Martindale-Nolo Research reports that the average cost of legal fees for a divorce is around $17,500 for a divorcing spouse with no children and around $26,000 for a divorcing spouse with kids. The average duration of divorce proceedings in California is 8 to 20 months with an average of 15 months between filing divorce papers and the official granting of a divorce. Without kids, a divorce can take about a year. With kids, it can take 18 months or longer.

The average cost of a divorce in California is about 37% higher than anywhere else in the country. Most divorce attorneys in California charge an average of $330 per hour for legal representation, and expenses are generally higher in California than most other states due to the high cost of living and very high taxes in the state. Attorneys’ fees, expenses, court filing fees, and consulting fees all contribute to the high cost of divorce in California.

Potential Economic Consequences of Divorce

California recognizes a community property rule when it comes to divorce. Any assets or property gained by a couple during a marriage typically counts as community property. If the couple commingles their personal assets and debts, those assets and debts also fall under community property.

Some marrying couples develop prenuptial agreements that stipulate each partner’s financial obligations and rights in the event the marriage ends, and most prenuptial agreements include specific clauses pertaining to different possible ends to a marriage. For example, a prenuptial contract may stipulate that if one of the spouses engages in infidelity, he or she forfeits rights to certain assets. An experienced family law attorney can help draw up a sound and legally binding prenuptial agreement.

California strives for equitable distribution of community property in divorce. For example, if a couple together owns $2 million in total assets and property, the court would strive to divide the community property to one million each. However, divorces are rarely this simple. Married couples with significant assets face especially complex property division proceedings. If the divorcing couple disagrees about ownership of a particular asset or piece of property, the court may rule they must sell the property and split the proceeds, or one spouse could offer other property to “buy out” the other spouse’s share of the property in question.

Alimony and Child Support

When one spouse earns more money than the other, divorce negotiations will likely involve discussions about alimony, spousal support, or child support if the couple has children and one parent obtains majority custody. A higher-earning spouse may need to pay alimony or spousal support to the lower-earning spouse to help him or her maintain a reasonable lifestyle until he or she is self-sufficient. A prenuptial agreement may have a clause concerning alimony rights, but a judge may or may not enforce this depending on the nature of the prenuptial agreement and other aspects of the divorce.

If child support comes into play, the court has an obligation to ensure the children in the divorce receive appropriate financial support from both parents. The noncustodial parent typically pays child support to the custodial parent until the children reach the age of 18 or meet the stipulated age in the child support agreement. For example, a divorcing couple may agree to continue child support until their children complete their educations.

California is one of the most expensive states for divorce for several reasons, and anyone expecting to divorce in the near future should consult with an experienced divorce attorney about what to expect from the process.