Everyone knows that getting a divorce can be expensive. However, the actual cost of your divorce can vary based on a number of factors.
Fortunately, there are several ways for you to reduce the cost of your divorce in Virginia.
In this article, we’ll talk about how you can estimate the total cost of your divorce. We’ll also discuss the expenses you should expect to incur immediately after a divorce.
Estimating the Cost of Your Divorce
The total cost of your divorce will depend largely on several factors, such as the type of divorce you’re filing for, the complexity of the issues in your case, and the billing structure of the attorney you hire.
For this reason, it’s impossible to estimate the total cost of a divorce without knowing the full details of your particular case.
On the whole, divorces that go to trial (often called “contested” divorces) cost significantly more than divorces where the spouses reach an agreement outside of court (“uncontested” divorces).
For this reason, it’s often in your best interests to at least try to work out the terms of your separation and come to an agreement with your soon-to-be former spouse before you even file for divorce.
Generally speaking, there are three main costs you should focus on when estimating the total cost of a Virginia divorce:
This article will largely focus on explaining these three major costs in more detail.
Property Settlement Agreements and the Division of Assets
An essential step in any Virginia divorce is equitable distribution, in which you and your spouse will divide your property and assets.
This is not necessarily an expense, but, rather, an allocation of property between two separating spouses.
Essentially, you and your spouse must divide your possessions in an “equitable” manner.
Note that this doesn’t mean an equal division. Instead, an “equitable” division of property is a division that the judge sees as “fair.”
For this reason, while a 50/50 division of property is the default, it’s not uncommon for Virginia divorces to skew in the favor of one spouse due to the presence of certain court-determined factors.
Precisely how your property is divided will depend on many factors, such as the length of the marriage and the relative need of the parties.
In uncontested divorces, the spouses will largely handle this process themselves.
Generally, they will do so by drafting a Property Settlement Agreement with their attorneys.
On the other hand, contested divorces often lead to judges deciding whether or not a particular division of property is “equitable.”
Marital vs. Separate Property
One of the first steps in a divorce is to classify all of your property, assets, and debts as either “separate” or “marital.”
In general, you should expect to divide any marital property equitably between the two of you.
Basically, this means that you and your spouse will split any property acquired or earned during the marriage.
This can include the family home, any retirement or savings accounts, any and all shared items (such as silverware or furniture), as well as any negative assets such as certain shared debts and loans.
On the other hand, each spouse will retain any separate property through the divorce.
Common examples of separate property include assets which belonged to one spouse before marriage (such as assets kept in a trust), personal injury proceeds, inheritances, or gifts given exclusively to one spouse.
In this way, one of the most common ways to lower the overall personal cost of your divorce is to show why certain property is separate rather than marital.
For instance, if you can show that a necklace you inherited from your mother fits Virginia’s rules for separate property, that necklace may be exempt from the normal equitable distribution laws.
Put another way, this heirloom would most likely not become a factor in your overall divorce, since it’s your property rather than your household’s property.
In a similar fashion, all contested property must be accurately valued by an expert who can testify during your divorce.
For this reason, hiring an expert to appraise the value of certain low-cost items will only raise the total cost of your divorce.
Attorney fees are another important cost that you need to take into account during your divorce.
This is because the Virginia State Bar Association recommends that each spouse should hire their own separate legal counsel, even if you’re simply filing for a basic uncontested divorce.
When estimating the cost of hiring an attorney, you should note that there are several different types of billing structures common with attorneys.
Many lawyers will bill their clients on an hourly basis. This means that you will be charged the hourly rate for each unit of time your attorney spends on your case.
Attorneys that bill on an hourly rate typically send statements to their clients that provide an accounting for the time spent on the case, as well as any additional fees.
Attorneys who bill on an hourly basis will also charge a “retainer” fee in order to start your case. Retainer fees are generally “earned” when paid, meaning the fee itself is non-refundable.
It might also be considered a type of deposit, placed in a trust account by your attorney and intended to cover future, expected costs related to your divorce.
It is important to determine which type of retainer your attorney is charging when you begin your case.
Whenever you see lawyers who advertise a “flat-fee” divorce, they are usually referring to an up-front, non-refundable fee more similar to the first definition of a retainer fee.
However, different attorneys use different combinations of flat fees, hourly rates, and retainer fees.
Further, the ratios between these fees are often different from firm-to-firm and case-to-case.
For this reason, you should alway make sure you are clear on your attorney’s billing structure before you hire them to represent you.
What to Expect When Hiring a Lawyer
Many attorneys will charge the flat “retainer” fee when processing an uncontested divorce.
This is because uncontested divorces generally follow a very specific process, and your attorney should already have a procedure in place for completing this service.
Meanwhile, the billing structure for contested divorces will differ depending on the attorney you hire and how complex your divorce is likely to be.
This is because arguing with your spouse in court involves a great deal of additional preparation on the part of your attorney.
Further, there is a good chance of unexpected complications arising in your case, such as disagreements over how you’ll split your assets with your spouse.
Complications such as these make it nearly impossible for the attorney to charge a flat fee for their services, as a contested divorce can last anywhere from a few months to several years.
Regardless of which path you choose, a good lawyer will usually discuss these costs with you up-front so you know exactly what to expect in your specific situation.
Aside from fees, you should also expect to invest a good deal time with your attorney, especially at the outset of your case.
Having to take off work, or driving long distances to meet your attorney, are also costs you should take note of.
Finally, depending on the nature of assets owned by you and your spouse, your attorney will also likely ask you to provide a great deal of information and supporting documentation.
Coming to attorney-client meetings prepared and cooperating with these requests to the best of your ability is crucial to obtaining the best possible outcome in your case.
Post-Divorce Costs and Residual Effects
When considering the total cost of your divorce, you should also consider the expenses you’ll incur after the divorce.
For the most part, these will consist of costs that you agree to, such as child support or alimony, and additional costs resulting from your change in marital status, such as changes to how you file your taxes.
Child Custody and Support
Understandably, issues involving the support and custody of minor children will often lead to long and bitter legal battles.
However, in some cases, there are options available that will leave both parties satisfied.
For example, many divorce settlements result in each parent sharing joint legal custody.
Similarly, there are many ways to resolve child support disputes without placing an unneeded burden on either parent.
In general, you should remember that parents are legally obligated to financially support their children until they are at least 18 years old.
If you and your spouse share any children, you should always take the needs of your children into consideration when planning your divorce.
Spousal Support (“Alimony”)
Disputes involving spousal support (sometimes called “alimony”) also tend to be quite costly.
Essentially, if you and your spouse have been married for an extended period of time, or if one spouse is unable or less able to support themselves on their own, the judge is likely to require that one spouse pay spousal support to the other.
Especially for cases where one spouse stopped working as a result of the marriage, spousal support payments can get quite costly.
For this reason, you should always take these payments into consideration when planning your divorce.
Tax Implications of a Divorce
Finally, you should also keep in mind that a divorce can have profound effects on how you file your taxes.
As simply one element to take into account, you may be able to write alimony payments off on your taxes, while individuals receiving alimony will have to pay taxes on this source of income.
In all cases, you’ll want to talk over the full effects of your divorce with your lawyer before filing your taxes in the years following a divorce.
The costs associated with filing for divorce can change based on a wide variety of factors.
For this reason, it’s almost impossible to quote an exact number without first hearing about your full situation.
In Virginia, filing a basic uncontested divorce can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, while contested divorces can easily reach as high as $10,000.
Ultimately, the best way to save money during your Virginia divorce is to hire the right lawyer.
An experienced Virginia family law attorney will guide you through the divorce process, step by step.
A trustworthy lawyer will also find ways to make settlements and mediation possible, rather than pushing you to fight everything out in court.