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How Much does a Contested Divorce Cost?

January 10, 2012
Unfortunately, the answer is "it depends" . Variations in the cost of a divorce are generally dependant on four things: the cost of your attorney, the extent of your assets, whether you have children, and finally, how much the you and your spouse fight over your divorce.

Attorney's fees can vary, and they should as there are various levels of skills and expertise in the legal community. Assets have an impact as the presence of assets often requires that the assets be evaluated and valued so that the court can accurately determine a fair division of the assets- for both parties.

What can greatly increase the cost the divorce are attempts to hide assets in an attempt to "keep what is mine". There are rules regarding what is in fact yours and what is marital property. Hiding assets or the existence of assets will not help you keep them. In fact, hiding assets generally raises the cost of the divorce and can result in either your loss of the asset or the other side receiving an offset in the divorce asset balancing analysis for your improper activity.

The presence of children can increase the cost of your divorce if you choose to fight over their custody. The courts will generally follow the lead of the parents if their custodial arrangement is reasonable and in the best interest of the children. But if you fight over custody or your arrangement is not in the children's best interest, your cost can increase if the court determines that a Guardian Ad Litem is needed to help the court to determine custody of the children. Custodial trials are among the more expensive court trials available, often requiring numerous witnesses and experts increasing the amount of time for trial and the expenses associated with such trial.

If you chose to fight with your spouse over every single aspect of your divorce, the result will be the most expensive divorce in your neighborhood. This is not to say that you should give in to every demand your spouse and walk away, but you should be clear on the most important aspects of your divorce and your position regarding those aspects. You and your attorney should determine at the outset your strategic plan regarding the elements of the divorce that are most important to you. With your attorney, evaluate alternative methods such as mediation, case neutral evaluation, cooperative elements or even arbitration. Not every alternative may work in your situation, but each should be evaluated in light of the benefits and difficulties relative to your case.

Yes, attorney's fees can be a factor in the cost of your divorce, but a bigger factor is the behavior of you and your spouse regarding the products of your marriage and your ability to put aside your hurt and your pain and make reasonable decisions about what you have created by your union. No one knows better than the two of you what is important in your family. A failure on the part of either of you to be reasonable will almost certainly result in a bigger divorce price tag- for both of you.

Karen has an MBA from Boston College and received her law degree from Emory. She has an office in Alpharetta and has practiced family law since 1994. She is a Guardian Ad Litem and active Foster Care Advocate with area courts and is also on the Family Law Executive Committee for the State Bar of Georgia. She frequently speaks state wide on family law issues and can be contacted at 770-952-5000.
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