How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost?

A divorce lawyer talks to a client.

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Divorce expenses involve a great deal more than what your lawyer will cost you—but paying for your attorney’s services will take up a big part of the overall tab in many cases.

A divorce can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars per person if the couple have an amicable split, to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a contested divorce. A survey by the legal site Nolo that found the median cost of attorney’s fees for a divorce with a lawyer in 2019 was $7,000, and the average was $11,300.

Lawyers in metropolitan areas and major cities tend to charge more than those in rural areas due to cost-of-living factors, and a contentious divorce will cost much more than one where you and your spouse have reached an agreement before you even knock on a lawyer's door.

Key Takeaways

  • A divorce lawyer can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per person.
  • The divorce process includes many steps that a lawyer will handle or oversee on your behalf, from discovery to mediation and negotiations.
  • Divorce lawyers typically cost more in large, metropolitan areas than they do in rural locations due to cost-of-living factors.
  • Some states have legal mechanisms in place for divorces where one spouse is destitute and the other is well off, obligating the wealthier spouse to pay for the entirety of the proceedings.
  • A contested divorce will be much more expensive than if you and your spouse reach an agreement early on about property, debts, and issues with your children.

How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost?

You’ll pay more if your divorce is a complicated case that’s going to require a lot of your lawyer’s time, but some general rules of thumb can apply.

“If you're lucky enough to be going through an amicable divorce and all you need to do is file the paperwork, you'll probably only need to spend a few hundred dollars,” said Ben Michael, an attorney with Michael & Associates in Austin, Texas. “If, on the other hand, you want the services of a good lawyer to help you navigate the untangling of assets and the splitting of custody, you're probably looking to spend somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000 upfront, and another few hundred dollars per hour as the case progresses."

What Does a Divorce Lawyer Do?

Divorce laws and procedures can vary from state to state. A lawyer can fill you in on the laws and rules in your area, and help you understand how they’ll affect your particular case. Below, find the information you need to know before working with a divorce lawyer.


They’ll file the complaint or petition for divorce, or they'll respond to a complaint or petition that your spouse has already filed. Numerous other documents will most likely have to be filed with the court as your divorce case progresses.


A lawyer can be invaluable if you’re not on speaking terms with your soon-to-be-ex, or if trying to talk with and deal with them is difficult to impossible. Your lawyer will handle negotiations and exchange information with your spouse on your behalf, or with their attorney if they have one.


Discovery in legal terms is the gathering of all pertinent facts and information. This can include appraisals and something called “interrogatories,” which requires that your spouse answer a list of detailed questions regarding assets, debts, and other pertinent issues.

Mediations and Settlements

A parenting plan must be worked out if you have children, and custody and parenting time are at issue. This can include mediation; your lawyer will prep you in advance so you can get as much out of the process as possible.

Your lawyer will attend settlement conferences with you so you don’t have to wing them on your own. They then will appear in court on your behalf if your divorce case requires that motions must be filed, or it becomes contested so a trial becomes necessary for a judge to decide issues between you and your spouse.

“A divorce lawyer can act in a limited or broad scope,” said Mark Cassell, a partner with Twyford Law Office in Spokane, Washington. “Our goal is to always listen to our clients and determine how we can accomplish their goals, and many times within their budget, because that is a real constraint for many families.”

Do You Need a Lawyer To Get Divorced?

You’ll want to have someone on your side to look out for your interests unless you’re divorcing after a very short marriage that involves no assets, debts, or children. Otherwise, you’ll probably need a divorce lawyer even if you are a lawyer, because divorces can be a very emotional and contentious ordeal. You may not always be thinking clearly throughout the process, and the stakes can be high.

You’ll also want someone to investigate whether your spouse is concealing any assets, such as retirement accounts.


Some states, such as New York, provide do-it-yourself divorce kits on their state court websites if your divorce is a no-asset, no-debts, and no-children case, or if you and your spouse have reached a comprehensive settlement agreement on your own. But you may still want to pay a divorce lawyer to review your paperwork and be sure you’re getting a fair deal.

How Do Divorce Lawyers Charge for Fees?

Just as there’s no universal, coast-to-coast number as to what a divorce lawyer will cost, there’s no single format that every attorney uses to assess their fees. However, some arrangements are pretty common.

Some lawyers will charge you by the hour for their services, but in most cases, they'll require that you pay a retainer fee upfront. The money typically is placed in a special trust bank account, then they bill their time against the fee. They’ll pay for any court and other costs from the money, too, such as a filing fee for your divorce complaint or petition and appraisal fees.

For example, your lawyer might ask for a $5,000 retainer and perform services for you at an hourly rate of $300. They might devote 12 hours to your case in the first month. That totals $3,600, so your available retainer fee will drop to $1,400.

You may have to put down another retainer fee if the first one runs out before your case is finalized, but divorce lawyers often can gauge upfront how much time they’ll have to invest into successfully ending your marriage. You should receive a statement every month showing what’s been billed and subtracted from your retainer fee.


Your first meeting with the lawyer is called a consultation and is usually free. Your potential divorce lawyer uses this meeting to gather information about your marriage and get an idea of how many hours they’ll most likely have to devote to getting you successfully divorced.

How To Pay for a Divorce Lawyer

Ideally, you and your spouse can reach an agreement to divide up any available cash you might have saved, or your family may be able to loan you some money. Just be sure to document what you did, and sign a notarized statement confirming that you both consented to this option.

Some divorce lawyers accept credit cards, or they may be willing to let you make monthly payments rather than put down a retainer fee. You might be eligible for legal aid if your personal income is low or nonexistent, or your divorce lawyer might be able to petition the court to ask that your spouse pay for your share of the legal fees, if this is permissible in your state.

How To Find a Divorce Lawyer

You could ask for friends’ suggestions if they feel like they came out of their divorces in pretty good shape. You might also ask another attorney who practices in a different field for their recommendation.

And, of course, there’s always the internet. Search for lawyer referral sites online and read—really read—what they say about themselves and what others post about them.

The Bottom Line

Divorce can be an expensive undertaking depending on the extent of your assets and debts and whether you have minor children, but it doesn't have to be prohibitive. Ask any lawyer you’re considering whether they offer payment options and will work with you. Reach out to legal aid in your area to find out if any programs are available to you. But don’t try to represent yourself unless you’re very, very sure you have nothing to lose.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What's the cheapest cost for a divorce?

The cost of a divorce can vary a great deal depending on what’s at issue and your location. You’ll almost certainly pay less if you can reach an agreement with your spouse ahead of time.

How much does it cost for a divorce in New York?

It comes down to whether the divorce is uncontested because you and your spouse have already reached an agreement, or whether you’re going to battle it out in the legal system. You might have to pay out-of-pocket as much as $50,000 in New York in a highly litigated matter. But this can drop to about $5,500 for an uncontested matter that doesn’t involve much court intervention. The average cost of divorce in New York is about $13,500, but this can vary by location within the state.

Who pays for a divorce?

Each spouse typically is expected to pay their own divorce costs, but there might be an exception if one spouse is unemployed or has very little income while the other earns a great deal. Your lawyer may be able to petition the court for an order obligating the wealthier spouse to pay all the costs. However, you’ll have to prove that you don’t have money or income, and that your spouse can afford to take on your legal fees.

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  1.  Nolo. “How Much Will My Divorce Cost?

  2. “Ways Divorce Attorneys Help Their Clients.”

  3. McSwain, Nagle, Giese and Rapp. “What Is ‘Discovery’ and What Can I Do if My Spouse Refuses To Comply?"

  4. New York Courts. “Uncontested Divorce Program.”

  5. “Requesting an Order for Your Spouse To Pay Your Legal Fees.”

  6. OnlineDivorceNY. “The Average Cost of Divorce in New York in 2022.”

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