A wedding in the United States costs on average more than $26,000. This doesn’t include the honeymoon. (Source: http://www.costofwedding.com) Add raising kids at a cost of $233,610 per kid and the cost of your family can be very, very high. (Source: http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/09/pf/cost-of-raising-a-child-2015/) Surprisingly, even with the high rate of divorce in America, people think very little about the cost of divorce until it is upon them.
Most Americans are shocked at the many tens of thousands of dollars it can take to get a divorce. In my experience, a contested divorce can be anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 for the average couple in San Diego County. (This figure is based on the averages I have seen in my personal practice back when I used to litigate.)
Contested divorce expenses are usually higher because of exorbitant legal fees. People often overlook other “hidden” divorce expenses like the cost to refinance or sell a house. Additionally, there can be increased costs for couples to have anything close to the same lifestyle they had before the divorce. Moving to different households means that couples can’t pool their resources and efforts like they did before. When you are buying two gallons of milk instead of one, life just costs more. Finally, it is hard to put a price tag on the emotional toll on the family in tears, sleepless nights, stress and worry that are just part of an adversarial divorce.
Conflict Is Expensive
All in all, divorce expenses in adversarial or litigated cases are worse because conflict is expensive and imposes higher transaction costs. Conflict simply costs more than harmony. Spending money to fight, investigate, litigate and generally be adverse simply drives up the price tag.
Conversely, peaceful options for divorce such as collaborative divorce or mediation can help keep divorce expenses in check. At my office in Solana Beach, California, the average divorce mediation cost falls anywhere between $5,000 and $9,000. Of course, the costs largely depend on the complexity of the case and the level of conflict. As a mediator, folks pay me for my ability to help manage and resolve disputes. When the conflict is higher, that means I have more work to do, which, in turn, makes it cost more.
Divorce mediation cost is generally less than going to court. There are several reasons for this.
Divorce Mediation is Cheaper Because of Informal Discovery.
In litigation, formal discovery is one of the most costly elements of a case. Because mediation is an informal process, discovery is typically done informally with much lower costs. Litigators make tons of money off of depositions, demands for production of documents and interrogatories, each of which requires specialized formal responses. In mediation, parties can choose less costly approaches to value assets like real estate than in litigation, because agreement puts an end to the need for forensic purity. If the parties agree on a valuation method or even a value, then there is no need to hire a costly forensic expert.
Divorce Mediation is Cheaper Because The Parties Drive the Process
In mediation, parties drive the process as opposed to court where the lawyers control everything. In litigation, you pay your lawyer for time spent on the case. If your lawyer is the ones driving the bus, then the bills will pile up.
In contrast, divorce mediation encourages the parties to drive the process and do a lot of the work themselves. The mediator is there to guide and facilitate, but decisions are made by the parties. It’s still good to bring in lawyers, but in mediation the lawyer’s role is more consultative than directive. You can use your consulting attorney on an as-needed basis and avoid paying her to run the entire case. Get your advice and make your decisions with the information you need. But let mediation keep your costs down by keeping the lawyers out of the day-to-day management of the case.
Divorce Mediation Cost Is Low Because There Is Less Involvement with the Courts.
In a litigated case, there is a lot of interaction with the court. Lawyers file interim motions and must attend hearings. Any interaction with the courts will cost you in billable hours. Plus, courts are overburdened and slow. A simple issue can take months to resolve at court. Formal legal rules and procedures add to the costs by forcing your attorney to do more work. In contrast, mediation cuts down on the need to interact with the court thereby cutting the need for formal processes. In my mediation practice, I can resolve most issues and concerns in a fraction of the time that a court would take. This keeps the divorce mediation cost lower. Because my processes are informal, you would only pay an attorney to get advice about your rights and not to go to court. Less formality translates to faster outcomes and fewer billable hours.
Divorce Mediation Cost is Low Because It Reduces Conflict and Reduces Emotional Damage
You really can’t put a price tag on the human cost that families feel when parties litigate. Divorce is tough enough. Litigation can actually make the conflict worse.
For example, children suffer as a result of the conflict. (Aside from therapy bills, your children may have a lifetime of emotional cost if exposed to conflict. It’s always best to reduce their exposure to conflict.) Instead of fighting, reducing the conflict by finding solutions to problems greatly reduces the impact on the kids.
Also, people going through a divorce feel a huge amount of stress as it is. Conflict just adds to that stress. With a resolution through mediation, people are more knowledgeable on how to resolve issues without harming each other, their children, and others, while experiencing peace.