How much will my divorce cost?  It is one of the first questions I’m asked when meeting with a client for the first time, and it’s certainly germane.  Divorce can be frightening, and one of the most frightening things about it is the cost, and the uncertainty involved with those expenditures.

Sadly, the real answer I have to give is that, at the beginning of the process, there simply is no way to tell.  The cost of a divorce can fall anywhere between $10,000 and $750,000.  Obviously, a range of that magnitude isn’t terribly helpful to most clients, so we start the process by asking a number of questions that may help narrow the range of anticipated cost.  These would include topics such as:

* Have you and your spouse discussed divorce?

* How contentious is this going to be?

* How much discovery are we going to have to do?

* What is the extent of your estate?

* How do you know how much you collectively have?

* What supporting documents do you already have?

Even when these questions are answered, giving the client a real, true estimate can be unrealistic, because often during the process the ideals that we talk about initially run up against a different reality.  For instance, a client may feel that all he or she wants is to simply retain their own separate property, but if that turns out to not exactly be the case, and if the fight for possessions becomes contentious, time and attorney fees build up.

The other areas that we try to explore in depth early in the process involve client expectations. What are those expectations? Where does the client want to be when the divorce is said and done?  Does he or she simply want to not remain married to this person, and the financial aspect is unimportant?  Or, is the client looking to come out of the divorce with financial security?  With specific possessions?  I spend time with my clients to help them answer the questions of, “What are you willing to spend, and what are you willing to give up to not deplete the community estate?”  Because one thing that is “different” about family law is that all of the money for attorneys’ fees – on both sides – is coming out of the community –  one pool of money.  It’s your kid’s college funds, your joint income, your house, your retirement, that great vacation you had planned, the car you drive and the one you were saving for….it’s everything.

Coming up with a set of realistic expectations, and preparing thoroughly at the beginning of the divorce process, can be key steps in keeping costs down, and helping to ensure that you come out of the divorce process with what is most important to you.  If you are considering filing for divorce, finding an attorney who is board certified in family law is highly recommended in order to help understand the issues and the costs that may be involved.

Marilea W. Lewis is a partner at Duffee + Eitzen. She can be reached at

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