UPDATED: MAY 5, 2020
Article by Daniel A. Levy, Esq.
Recently, I did a posting called, How Long Does It Take To Get Divorced In New Jersey. Along that same topic, I want to discuss another question that practically all clients ask me on the initial consultation for a divorce case: How much does it cost to get divorced in New Jersey?
This is a serious issue for most people, especially since most people have a very unrealistic view about the costs of getting divorced. As the above graphic shows, many people think that it will be extremely expensive to get divorced and they will get cleaned out, to the benefit of the lawyers. On the other side of the coin, there are many clients who see ads on billboards about $399 divorces and think that divorce cases are very cheap. Both of those assumptions are usually wrong, as I will discuss below.
Before talking about costs, I want to share our personal philosophy about legal costs: We strive to deliver top-notch legal services on terms that are reasonable and affordable to the hard-working folks who are in our geographic area. No one at this firm is going to recommend a course of action that is going to needlessly result in additional work just so we can add to the bill. That is why I often tell clients that a given course of action just isn’t worth it because the legal costs will not justify it. So with that said, here are some concrete notes on the true costs of divorce cases, and why the answer that I almost always give clients when they ask what the final bill will be is, “it depends.”
In all divorce cases, we have certain outside costs, which do not benefit the firm in any way. There are court costs (typically $300 for the filing fee, plus smaller costs every time you file a motion). You usually have to pay a process server to serve the divorce papers (about $60). If there is a marital home or any other real estate, it usually needs to be appraised (typically in the range of $600-$1,200 per property, depending on location and size). If there is a pension or retirement fund, that too needs to be appraised ($500/account). If there is a business or valuable tangible property (jewelry, coin collection, sports memorabilia, collectors cars, etc.) those will also need to be appraised. That fee can run from a couple hundred dollars for a jewelry appraisal to over $10,000 for a business valuation. And then there are additional costs for things like depositions or expert evaluations of children for custody-related issues, which could easily run a client several thousand dollars.
None of these fees go into the Firm’s pocket – they are all paid to either the court or the various experts and companies that provide these services.
In addition, a client will obviously have to pay their lawyer for the lawyer’s services. On almost all divorce cases, the client would pay the lawyer on an hourly basis. The attorney would typically take a retainer (an estimate of costs for a substantial block of attorney time to work on the case over the course of the months ahead, plus anticipated costs) and then pay themselves from the retainer. Anything left is returned to the client at the end of the case. And if the retainer is running low, the client would make another payment.
Going back to my earlier post, How Long Does It Take To Get Divorced In New Jersey, you can see that a divorce can be a short engagement, or take a considerable amount of time. The more there is in dispute – the more assets that there are to divide, the more parents fight over kids, the more disputes there are over other issues – the more attorney time is involved. And the longer the case goes on, the more you will need to spend on things like experts, depositions, appraisals, etc. This is why there are many divorce cases that cost $1,500, many that cost $15,000, and still plenty that can cost $150,000.
So in other words, if you want to know how much a divorce will cost you, the answer is, “it depends.” A good and thorough intake discussion with your attorney should give the attorney a solid idea about what kind of representation your particular case will be and the estimates of what your case will cost.