By: Jessica A. Bryant
I’ve yet to meet a single person who jumps for joy at the notion of going through a divorce and incurring costs as a result. Oftentimes, people ask what their case is going to cost them. Given so many unknowns and independent variables, I am generally left giving a range of potentials. Though I wish there was always clarity in the projected financial cost for a divorce and will always be upfront with clients about such matters, the reality is that it’s just not possible to give an accurate, exact figure for what their final charges might be. However, while reading news stories on the internet a couple of weeks ago, I came across a story which was, at least, insightful and may give me a little more ability to be more specific. That story related to a recent divorce study showed that Colorado is the 9th most expensive state for a divorce. According to this study, the average divorce Colorado divorce costs $14,500 and the average attorney’s fees are $11,400 (which is the 10th highest in the country). In comparison, according to the same study, the cheapest state in which to get a divorce is Montana, with the average divorce there costing $8,400 and the average attorney’s fees being $6,600. The most expensive state in which to get a divorce is California, with the average divorce costing $17,500 and the average attorney’s fees being $13,800.
While it may sound daunting, the fact that Colorado is the 9th most expensive state, the 22nd most expensive state still has an average divorce cost of $13,000 and an average attorney fees cost of $10,300. Thus, it is not as if Colorado is significantly more expensive than 41 other states. Notably, Colorado’s filing fee for a divorce, of $230, is only the 20th highest filing fee in the nation (in comparison, California’s filing fee is $435). Thus, Colorado is demonstrating efforts to make divorces affordable for everyone. In addition to the comparatively low filing fee, Colorado courts also offer pro-se resources centers and/or self-help centers. These are places that parties unable to afford or without attorneys can go to information about what steps to take in their case, get forms, and obtain advice on how to complete those forms. Colorado courts also makes approximately 33 instructional/informational forms related to family law available on their website and approximately 160 forms related to family law available. Though these resources can be of great help to those in need of cheap or free assistance, free legal advice is not offered and they are no substitute for having an experienced family law attorney.
What the study fails to disclose is what statistics were used to calculate the average divorce cost and average attorney fee cost (i.e., was it based on self-reported statistics, review of court documentation, etc.). Any of these methods could lead to falsely high or low averages. There is typically a wide variation in divorce costs. For example, there are some cases where divorcing parties have no children, very little property and have an agreement from the start regarding how property and debt will be divided and whether there will be any spousal support. In comparison, there are cases where the parties have children and may need a child-related expert (as discussed in a prior post these experts, known as CFIs or PREs may need to be appointed for a variety of reasons), one of the parties could be underemployed and require a vocational evaluator (discussed in a prior blog post), the parties may need to get real estate appraised, and they may have other property items that require an expert appraisal (trusts, pensions, business interests, expensive jewelry or antiques, etc.). All of these appointed experts come with associated costs and likely lead to increased attorney’s fees due to motions filed for appointment, review of expert reports and supporting documentation, potential need for contrasting expert reports, etc. Depending on what subsets of cases were polled to reach the statistics, and how the numbers were obtained for the study, could affect the accuracy of the average.
You may be thinking that is all great but what does this mean for my case? The main thing to keep in mind is that these average cost numbers are very arbitrary. Just because the average divorce cost in Colorado is $14,500 does not mean your case will cost will cost that much. As you go through your divorce case, even if you have an attorney, there are ways to save yourself costs. Prompt communication and responses to your attorney’s communication can save costs. Along those lines, consolidating your questions into one concise email or phone call (as opposed to sending emails or picking up the phone every time you have a question) can save you costs as well. The other important issue to keep in mind is that anytime something is filed in your case, that will have attorney fees associated with it. The more motions you request filed, emails you request be send to the other attorney or other party regarding any issues that arise, etc., the more the costs will add up in your case. By keeping these tips in mind, you can keep costs down and, hopefully, have a divorce that costs you lower than the average.
At Plog & Stein, we strive to make sure each new client is provided with some insights and tips on how to cut down on costs in their case. Just as each case is different, so is each client.