The real cost of divorce

Keep divorce out of court

The average contested divorce costs $15,570


Years ago I wrote a book on divorce. Having been through the process a bunch of times—I’m the eternal optimist—I believe there are better ways of handling a breakup than taking a contract out on your ex. (For the sake of full disclosure, I’m a part owner in The Common Sense Divorce.)

Divorce impacts your life in so many ways. Even as you’re trying to untangle your emotions, you’ll likely have to help your kids figure out theirs. And then there’s the money. If you want to hang on to as much of that as you can, then rule No. 1 is: Stay out of court.

Let’s say you’ve got 12 oranges. They represent all the assets you’ve accumulated during your relationship. Now you have to decide how many of those oranges you’re willing to give your lawyer. The more often you write, call, and meet, the bigger the bill. And if you go to court, you may not have enough oranges left to make even a teaspoonful of orange juice!

Using your lawyer to torture your ex is expensive and will leave you with far less to restart your life. Arguing over dumb stuff means less money for a new home and a fresh start. Keep your eye on the future and stay out of court.

An uncontested divorce will run you about $1,000. Arbitration or mediation will cost more. Go to court and you’ll have to cough up big bucks. According to, which surveyed 570 lawyers, for a contested divorce the costs ranged from $6,582 to $86,644 with the average falling at $15,570.

One reasons divorces end up costing so is because there’s usually a ton of emotional crap to wade through. But if you allow your emotions to negatively impact your financial decisions, you’ll not only be sorry, you’ll be poorer. The emotional stuff is temporary, the legal costs, permanent.

When it comes to dividing your financial lives, remember that a clean break is the best option. Joint accounts and joint credit (credit cards, lines of credit, personal or business loans) must be closed, and you’ll have to get busy re-establishing your personal financial identity. Don’t assume that just because your divorce papers say you’re no longer responsible that you’re off the hook. If your ex goes bankrupt while you’re still signed on the debt, you’re going to end up in court, or worse, having to pay off the debt.

One of the best ways to stay out of court is to have a good team behind you. I got involved with The Common Sense Divorce because its great dedicating to helping people going through divorce reduce the financial costs and the emotional trauma. As my partner Darren Gingras says, “We walk people from grief to relief.”