Divorce in California:

How Much Does It Cost? How Long Does It Take?

AVERAGE COST

$17,500

Average attorneys' fees were $13,800. Total costs for California divorce typically range from $5,500 to $38,000.

AVERAGE DURATION

15months 15mo

The California divorce process typically ranges from 8 months to 20 months.

  •  Average attorneys' fees were $13,800. Total costs for California divorce typically range from $5,500 to $38,000.
  •  The California divorce process typically ranges from 8 months to 20 months.
What Affects the Cost and Duration of Divorce in California?
What Affects the Cost and Duration of Divorce in California? 

Total Average Cost With Issues

Total Average Cost With Issues - with kids, without kids

Total Average Duration With Issues

Total Average Duration With Issues - with kids, without kids

We recently surveyed our California readers to find out about their experiences with divorce in that state. Here’s what we found out.

How Much Does Divorce Cost in California?

The average divorce in California costs $17,500, including $13,800 in attorneys' fees, according to our survey. That’s 37% higher than the national average of $12,800 in total divorce costs. So, why the cost bump in California? Attorneys in California tend to charge higher hourly rates. Higher expenses also play a part.

What Hourly Rates Do California Divorce Attorneys Charge?

In California, the average hourly fee charged by divorce lawyers was $330 per hour, higher than the national average. Our readers reported wide fluctuation in their divorce lawyers’ hourly rates—some were charged as little as $150 an hour, while others shelled out over $500 an hour.

Almost all divorce attorneys will bill you on an hourly basis. So, that hourly rate—plus the rate of any paralegals and other firm staff—factored with the total time spent on your divorce case will determine the amount of attorney’s fees you'll pay.

What Other Expenses Contribute to the Cost of Divorce in California?

After attorney's fees, the rest of the total cost of a divorce comes from expenses, which means fees for things like court filings and mediation, and the cost of copying and sharing documents. Expenses also include compensation for expert witnesses and consultants (like child custody evaluators, appraisers, or financial analysts). With California having one of the highest median incomes for these kinds of professionals, these expenses can really drive up the cost of a California divorce. Average expenses in California divorces were $3,700 compared to $2,700 nationally.

What Affects How Much Divorce Costs in California?

The most expensive type of divorce in California is one involving children, according to our survey results. When a California divorce involved child custody and support issues, the average cost was $26,300, including $22,200 in attorney’s fees. Compare these numbers to divorces without children in California, where the average cost dropped to $17,100, including $12,600 in attorney’s fees.

Reading between the numbers on these averages, divorce costs hinge a great deal on the level of conflict in your divorce. Is there a lot of animosity? How many issues do you need to resolve? Do those issues require expert analysis? Can you reach an agreement or are you headed for trial? Attorney's fees for cases that go to trial are higher than for those that settled.

How Long Does Divorce Take in California?

The average divorce in California took almost 15 months to resolve, with most of our readers reporting that it took from 8 months to 20 months.

A few notes on timing: In California, the soonest your divorce can be resolved is six months from the time the divorce papers are served, because the state has a built-in six-month waiting period. But unlike other states, California does not require that you and your spouse to be separated for any length of time before you get divorced.

What Affects How Long Divorce Takes in California?

It’s not common for a California divorce to get resolved shortly after the six-month waiting period passes. Several factors will cause a divorce to drag out for many months, sometimes even years.

Kids versus no kids. Psychological evaluations, court-ordered studies, financial questions, and high emotions mean that a divorce will take longer if it involves contested child custody and support issues. In California, a divorce with kids took an average of 18.2 months. Without kids, the average divorce in California took 11.7 months.

Going to trial. Our survey showed that divorcing couples who went to trial waited an average of 7 more months to finalize their divorce. Fortunately, only 30% of our California readers ended up in trial or extended hearings on one or more issues in their divorce case.

The court’s calendar. Many California court budgets have been slashed, so courthouses have had to lay off staff and cut back hours. That has translated into much longer waiting times for hearings, trials, orders, and final judgments in all kinds of cases, divorce included. This means that divorce is going to take longer for spouses who file lots of motions and are in and out of court, even if they don't end up going to trial.

Attorney calendars. Whether the attorneys take on too many cases or something unexpected comes up, some cases get put on the back burner.

Intentional delay. One of the spouses might use delay tactics to drag out the case, often in an effort to force the other side into a less-than-optimal settlement.

Summary dissolution is rare. California has an expedited divorce process, but few couples qualify for it. In order to be eligible, all of the following must be true:

  • The couple has no minor children together (and isn't expecting any).
  • The marriage lasted fewer than 5 years.
  • Neither spouse is requesting alimony.
  • The couple doesn't own real estate (and rental leases must end within one year).
  • The couple hasn't acquired more than $6,000 in debt during the marriage (not including car loans), and
  • The couple has acquired less than $40,000 worth of personal property during the marriage (not including cars).

The lack of a widely available expedited divorce process in California, plus the mandatory six-month waiting period, means California divorces take 33% more time to resolve compared with the national average.

There's a lot more to know about divorce in California, and the following websites have loads of useful information.

Divorce in California (from Divorcenet.com)
http://www.divorcenet.com/states/california

California Department of Child Support Services

http://www.childsup.ca.gov/

California Child Support Calculator
http://www.childsup.ca.gov/resources/calculatechildsupport.aspx

California Court Website – Family Law Information

http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-family.htm

About This Report

The data referenced above is from Martindale Nolo Research's 2015 divorce study, which analyzed survey responses from readers who had recently gone through a divorce and had researched hiring a lawyer. The names of the readers who submitted the quotes above have been changed to protect their privacy. To supplement our consumer survey results, Martindale Nolo Research interviewed experienced attorneys who specialize in divorce cases from its directory of over one million lawyers, including Arthur AbelsonDonna BaccarellaJoshua Carpenter, Patricia Powers-Simonelli, and Susan Weaver.

If you went through a divorce within the last three years, please consider taking our divorce survey. Your participation will help inform others about their situation and options before proceeding with their divorce.

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