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The Cost of Going to Court with a Contentious Divorce


The divorce process is financially draining and emotionally taxing, especially when there is a high level of animosity between the spouses. Generally, the more contentious a relationship is, the less likely it is that the parties will come to an agreement on issues. And the more issues that need to be litigated, the more motions are filed and the longer a trial tends to be.

California Divorces

Trial fees are very expensive, especially in California. Divorce costs in the state are 37% higher, and cases tend to take 33% longer, than the national average. The average cost of a divorce with children is 54% higher than cases without children. Once all attorney’s fees, filing fees, and court costs are taken into account, the average cost of a contested divorce with children in California is $26,300.

Some family law attorneys charge a flat fee while others bill hourly for services. Many attorneys require a retainer before they begin working on your case. An attorney’s fee largely depends on their experience level with family law litigation.

Usually hourly rates fall between $100 and $500 per hour. To some extent, the rates depend on geographic location. For instance, in April 2018 a California court ruled that $450 per hour was a reasonable attorney fee for the Los Angeles market. In a more rural area, an hourly rate may be $200 an per hour.

When accounting for the expenses of contentious litigation, it is also important to remember the time you will spend preparing for, traveling to, and appearing in court. Added to those costs is the potential of lost wages due to taking time off from work.

Length of Divorce Process

The average duration of a contested case with children in California is 18.2 months. The length of your case will depend on the number of issues that must be resolved, the complexity of those issues, and the relationship you have with your spouse. When divorce cases go to trial, they take an average of seven additional months to be finalized.However, the majority of cases either settle completely, or at least partially settle, before trial.

Hourly fees for attorneys are substantially higher for court appearances, which includes all the time an attorney spends in the courthouse. Preparation for a trial is also intense, and will require a significant number of hours.

Other Divorce Costs

The discovery, or fact-finding, process during litigation involves written interrogatories and document production requests. If depositions are taken, there are additional costs for hiring a court reporter or stenographer and ordering transcripts. You also need to calculate the hourly attorney fees involved in taking and preparing for depositions.

Administrative work, such as copying documents during discovery, is typically billed at a lower hourly rate set for non-attorney staff members. With more arduous discovery requests, however, the cost of document production can add up quickly.

Additional costs can also accrue if professionals, such as child psychologists, are consulted and testify as expert witnesses.

Consult with an Experienced California Divorce Lawyer

Do you have questions for an experienced Fresno and San Diego divorce attorney? Contact Rebecca Medina at 559-324-5427 in Fresno or 858-285-4315 in San Diego to learn more about the divorce process and discuss your situation.

Rebecca MedinaAbout the Author: Rebecca Medina

Rebecca Medina is an experienced Family Law attorney, mediator and Collaborative Divorce Lawyer serving the Fresno and San Diego areas. She handles cases ranging from complex divorce matters to child custody, spousal support, prenuptial/postnuptial agreements, QDROs and uncontested divorce cases. She was rated “Clients’ Choice” by Avvo.

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