One of the most common issues faced by divorcing couples is whether one spouse will have to pay alimony, and if so, how much and for how long. To learn more about the cost and duration of divorce when alimony is requested, we recently surveyed our readers. Here’s what we found out.
The Cost of Divorce With Alimony
Divorcing spouses spent an average of $17,700 on costs to resolve their divorces when alimony was involved, including $14,700 on attorney’s fees. (Compare these numbers to divorces without alimony, and the costs and fees drop significantly. The average total cost of a divorce without alimony in our survey was $9,700, including about $8,100 in attorney’s fees.)
Alimony (sometimes called “spousal support” by lawyers) can mean a number of things. It can mean temporary alimony (financial support during the divorce), it can mean financial support paid to help one spouse get back into the job market (rehabilitative alimony), or, in lengthy marriages, it can mean long-term support (permanent alimony). The more alimony a spouse requests, the more likely the other spouse is to fight it, and the more expensive the divorce becomes.
Going to Trial on Alimony
Spouses who can't agree on how much alimony should be paid and for how long, even after several negotiation sessions with their lawyers and/or mediators, end up going to trial. In our survey, 30% of the spouses going through divorce with alimony ended up going to trial.
Divorce cases that go to trial on alimony always cost more than those that don't, due to the attorneys having to work more hours, hire financial analysts and expert witnesses, and pay court fees (more on this below). Based on our results, a divorce with alimony case that went to trial cost an average of $26,700. That’s almost double what the cases that settled cost.
Settling Alimony Issues Out of Court
Most divorcing spouses settle their alimony issues without going to court. A little over 69% of our survey respondents reported that they were able to settle their divorce with alimony cases, spending an average of $13,700.
How Long Divorce Takes When Alimony Is Involved
Our survey found that divorces with alimony took an average of 12.4 months to resolve. (In comparison, divorces without alimony issues took 11.5 months to resolve, on average.)
Couples who were able to settle alimony and any other issues were done in about 11 months, while those who had to have a judge decide their alimony issues had to wait an average of 16 months for resolution. Cases that go to trial are at the whim of the judicial system. Many courts have long wait times for hearing and trials, and that can make divorce takes months longer.
Why Does a Dispute Over Income Increase the Cost and Length of Divorce?
Some spouses don't fight having to pay alimony when it makes sense; for example, paying support to a stay-at-home spouse who left a job to raise the kids. But others may be dealing with a totally different set of circumstances, like an ex that can work, but just won’t, or an ex that “doesn’t have a dime for support” even if this is obviously untrue.
In these cases, it's not uncommon for spouses to disagree on how much the working spouse actually makes or how much the non-working spouse should be able to earn. These kinds of disputes over income and earning capacity can be expensive and time-consuming because of the additional costs of hiring financial experts (who decide whether bonuses or a business's profits should be counted towards alimony), vocational analysts (who decide how much a non-working spouse could earn), and accountants (who think about the tax implications) — plus they almost always require more of your attorney's time.
How Child Custody and Support Disputes Affect Divorce With Alimony
Divorces where one spouse is requesting alimony often also involve kids. If a divorcing parent has been taking care of an infant or young child, an alimony award is likely. Child support and custody are the most challenging of all divorce-related issues, and paired with a dispute over alimony, these cases are among the most expensive. Average costs for cases with all three issues were $19,100, including $17,500 in attorney’s fees, and they took an average of 13.1 months to resolve.
How Disputes Over Property Affect Divorce With Alimony
About 75% of the readers we surveyed had both alimony and property issues in their cases. Property and debt division disputes usually involve the martial home, retirement accounts, cars, savings, and credit card debts. These issues often become intertwined with alimony; sometimes spouses asking for alimony will end up settling for more cash or other assets instead of monthly support payments.
Total average costs for alimony and property cases were $17,300, including $14,300 in attorney’s fees. These alimony and property cases took an average of 12.1 months to resolve, but the amount of time ranged from 9 months for those who settled to over 17 months for those who went to trial.