Divorce is an unpleasant process no matter how you spin it. Not only are you losing half the time with your kids and half of everything you own, but you may also be stuck with a huge bill just to get your divorce finalized. Plus, in a state like California with a high cost of living, people are forced to wonder: how much is a divorce in California?

The potential cost of divorce is often one of the first thing couples think about when they consider dissolving their marriage. The national average cost of divorce in the U.S. is about $15,000, but a California divorce can cost up to $17,500 because of higher than average attorney fees.

The good news is that California is a no-fault divorce state, so you don’t need to go to court to prove fault if you want to dissolve your marriage. In fact, the main grounds for divorce in the state is “irreconcilable differences,” which is vague enough to encompass most situations.

Despite the no-fault advantage, the cost of divorce is still cause for concern. This guide breaks down everything you need to know before you initiate divorce proceedings, with information on how you and your partner could get a DIY divorce for cheap if you’d rather not hire an attorney. If both you and your spouse agree to the terms, you can even file for divorce online!

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How Much Is a Divorce in California? Factors that Impact Divorce Cost

If you’re wondering, “How much is a divorce in California,” the answer is that it depends. The price tag for a divorce in California varies depending on the case. There is no way to tell the exact amount you will have to spend for your particular case, but there are factors you can use to make an estimation. These include:

1. Contested or Uncontested?

The single biggest factor in determining the cost of a divorce is whether it’s contested or uncontested.

  • Contested divorce – You and your spouse can’t agree to the terms and need litigation or mediation to sort out your differences.
  • Uncontested divorce – You and your spouse want to end your marriage amicably.

The difference between the two comes down to whether you and your spouse need the court to settle every family law matter like spousal support, child support, child custody, and the division of community property (i.e. property acquired during the marriage). You will both have to retain a family law attorney, which can greatly increase the cost of the process.

On the other hand, if you two can reach an agreement without court intervention, then the divorce is uncontested. An uncontested divorce is cheaper and much quicker than a contested one. You may even be eligible for summary dissolution, which is a sort of abbreviated divorce process.

For your marriage to qualify, it has to be less than five years old. You also must have no kids, limited debts and assets, and you both have to agree to waive spousal support.

If you opt to file for a summary dissolution proceeding, then all you and your spouse need to do is file a joint petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a Marital Termination Agreement. You don’t have to hire an attorney, and you don’t have to go to court. You can complete the entire process yourself online. Check out this article for information on the cost of summary dissolution.

2. Kids or No Kids?

How much is a divorce with kids? More than a divorce without children, which probably comes as no surprise.

Having kids can complicate a divorce and increase the cost of the process, especially if you or your spouse engage in a contentious child custody battle. Sorting out child support as well as child custody will require both parties to fill out more paperwork. You may have to hire an attorney or mediator to help you iron out an acceptable custody arrangement, which costs time and money. There will also be a longer waiting period as you wait for a divorce judgment.

As mentioned in the last section, simply having minor children prohibits a summary dissolution. One of the requirements for dissolution is the absence of minor children and/or a pregnancy.

3. Your Divorce Method

Divorce isn’t a “one size fits all” process. It can take different forms depending on the circumstances of your case. In addition to the standard divorce and summary dissolution, California has two other ways of ending a marriage.


An annulment nullifies the marriage as though it never happened. It is possible to seek an annulment on the following grounds:

  • One or both spouses were under the age of 18;
  • One or both of the spouses were not of sound mind during the wedding;
  • The marriage was obtained through coercion;
  • One or both spouses entered the marriage as a result of fraud;
  • One or both spouses was physically incapable of marriage when the wedding took place;
  • Bigamy or a prior existing marriage; and
  • Incest.

Annulment has a statute of limitations. When the deadline runs out, a couple has to have a regular dissolution proceeding. Unlike summary dissolution, an annulment requires formal testimony and a court hearing.

Legal Separation

Legal separation is a cheaper alternative to a standard divorce. When you legally separate, you remain married on paper, but the court divides your assets and makes child custody arrangements. Couples sometimes choose legal separation for financial reasons (e.g. maintaining health insurance) or religious purposes (e.g. Catholicism doesn’t support divorce).

Separating in this way is common among couples with kids. Since you are still legally married, the separation won’t greatly disrupt your kids’ daily routines. Legal separation is popular in California; the state has one of the lowest divorced population in the country at 9.2%.

Any divorce process that requires litigation is going to have a steep monetary cost, which is why we recommend couples cooperate to get an amicable divorce. If you’re unable to come to terms, then hire a professional mediator to help with the negotiations. A mediator will almost always be cheaper than a divorce attorney.

How Much Is a Divorce Lawyer?

Divorce attorney fees are pretty high in California. Attorneys have an average cost of anywhere from $300 to $950 per hour depending on what part of California they practice. For example, a Los Angeles family law attorney will likely charge more per hour than one in Bakersfield. Some even require an initial retainer fee if the case is complex. Total attorney fees can range from $12,500 to $15,300. The attorney may also charge extra fees for copying and sharing documents as well as compensation for financial analysts, appraisers, and witnesses.

Hiring a good lawyer can be an enormous expense, but sometimes it is necessary, especially if your spouse is aggressive. A divorcing couple may also hire an attorney for an hour or two to get basic legal advice before they work on the divorce themselves or with the help of an online platform.

How Much Is a Divorce Without a Lawyer?

A divorce without an attorney is possible, but it still has costs. For starters, there is an initial court filing fee of between $435 and $450. Couples who can’t afford the filing fee can apply for a fee waiver. Your county court may charge additional fees depending on the circumstances of your case.

Beyond the standard fees, you may also need to hire accountants, real estate agents, or child specialists to help you hammer out the divorce agreement. Perhaps you may need to get an asset appraisal and a valuation for your real property. You may also want to hire a mental health professional to help you and your kids cope with the stress and emotional turmoil of the divorce process.

Assuming you forgo mediation and litigation, it is possible to complete the process on your own. If you and your spouse are willing to work together, then the most affordable choice is to do it yourself. However, while a DIY divorce is appealing, nobody wants to be at the mercy of the court clerk. Divorce forms get rejected for all kinds of reasons, from spelling errors to mathematical mistakes.

If you’re not confident about your ability to fill out the divorce documents, online legal document assistance services like A People’s Choice can help!

Save Money on Your California Divorce

For those who want to know, “How much is a divorce in California?” the answer is that it depends. Many factors can affect the cost of divorce in California. But when you boil it down, the main factors that determine the time and cost of a divorce are whether a couple disagrees about significant issues, such as alimony, child custody and support, and dividing assets and debts.

When you consider every variable, a DIY divorce ends up being the least expensive route. It’s a great option for couples who had a short-term marriage and are willing to end things on good terms. That said, even a meticulous person can mess up the legal paperwork you must file to dissolve a marriage.

Save time and money by hiring a professional legal document assistant to help you with your do-it-yourself divorce. While our assistants can’t offer legal advice, they can prepare your divorce papers at a fraction of the cost of a divorce attorney! Call us at 800-747-2780 to learn more.

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