Family Law

Does the Cost of a Divorce Depend on Your Net Worth?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney

Even though attorney's fees and court costs associated with divorce can quickly skyrocket, many couples are able to find ways to keep divorce-related expenses under control. But what if you and your spouse have a high-asset estate? Do high-net worth couples pay more for their divorces than average clients?

Will My Net Worth Affect the Cost of My Divorce?

There are a lot of unknowns in any divorce case. A middle-income couple can go through a very costly divorce if one spouse refuses to cooperate or files frivolous motions. On the other hand, a very wealthy couple can have a quick and inexpensive divorce if the spouses are able to work together and reach a settlement early on in their case.

Having said this, however, most high-asset divorces do tend to be high-priced. Individuals with substantial assets (such as homes, rental properties, successful business ventures, jewelry, cars, stocks, and private jets) usually have more financial issues to resolve in a divorce. For example, divorcing spouses who own several properties or business interests will probably need to hire financial experts (usually each spouse hires their own expert) to perform independent property appraisals and business valuations. These expert reports are essential to determining the fair market value of the couple's assets. Once the value is decided, the couple can either agree on a division or end up in court, asking a judge to decide. All of these appraisals take time and cost money.

Additionally, divorce attorneys often recommend hiring financial experts, advisers, and tax consultants to help high-asset clients plan for post-divorce finances and understand the hefty tax consequences of a big dollar divorce.

How Can I Keep My Divorce Costs Down?

When possible, work with your spouse and compromise. If you and your spouse can agree on major issues from the beginning of the process, you may be able to save a lot of time, stress, and money.

When spouses work together to compromise, they can better manage the cost of their divorce. However, some spouses are dead set on battling it out. When one party refuses to compromise or insists on using formal court procedures, such as discovery, formal accountings, hearings, and trial, divorce costs go up. If you're dealing with a stubborn, unreasonable spouse, you may end up with a huge bill, and there’s not a lot you can do about it.

If you have specific questions about your divorce and how to deal with a contentious spouse, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Manage your attorney. If you want to keep costs down, it’s important to find an attorney who won’t create legal dramas that increase fees and court costs. You and your attorney both have some control over your divorce. An emphasis on trying to settle your case early on will save money in the long run -- even with high-asset divorces. Choose an attorney who will use a case strategy that matches your values. Most lawyers will attempt to resolve their cases on fair terms and avoid trial if possible.

It's also important to remember that your attorney will charge an hourly rate for any work completed on your case, so be cautious with your attorney’s time - lawyers bill for phone calls, emails, and in-person meetings.

How Do I Hire the Right Attorney?

The most expensive attorney in town isn’t necessarily the best lawyer for your case. If you’ve decided to hire legal counsel to represent you in a divorce, you should look for an attorney with significant family law experience.

You may need to interview a few different attorneys to find the right one for you. If you have substantial income and property, make sure the attorney you're interviewing has experience managing high-asset divorces.

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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