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How much does a divorce lawyer cost in California? (2023)

California is among the states with the lowest rate of divorce filings per year. Although that is an achievement in itself, there are still thousands of applications submitted each year. Overall, almost 6.5% of marriages end in divorce within a year. And this billion-dollar legal industry shows no signs of slowing down.

But what are the factors that affect divorce in California? And how much do you need to pay your lawyer to help you with your divorce?

Let’s take a detailed look at attorney fees and other factors that influence the cost of divorce and attorney fees in California in 2023.

Divorce cost in California in 2023

There is a common misconception that the cost of divorce only includes attorney fees. This is simply not the case.

Regardless of whether you hire a divorce lawyer or not, you still need to pay court and procedural fees which include:

  1. Legal costs
  • petition filing fee;
  • Courtroom fee;
  • Divorce forms; and
  • Process servers, or cost of serving divorce documents.

These are the basic expenses that people seeking divorce must cover. There are also additional costs involved, depending on the nature and complexity of the case. They are:

  1. Legal services fee

Legal service costs are the expenses you must incur if any of the following apply to your case:

  • Child custody evaluation cost (if children are involved)
  • Business valuation rate (if companies are involved)
  • Real estate appraiser fee (if real estate is involved)
  • Mediation costs
  • Expert’s fee
  • Tax advice fee

These expenses are paid to third-party experts or witnesses who provide their services to corroborate your case or evaluate the economic aspect between the couple.

But the costs don’t necessarily end there. You should also consider the soft costs associated with divorce, which have nothing to do with the legal proceedings.

Any relocation or change of residence by one spouse, altered insurance costs, therapy costs, and setting up a new home can also add to your total divorce cost.

All of these additional costs can severely affect any individual. If children are involved, the cost of parental time and visitation rights is also significantly high.

  1. Additional costs

Divorce cases are not separate matters. They are often accompanied by other problems for which you have to pay. These additional problems cause a sharp increase in the total cost of divorce. These additional costs include the following:

  • Spousal support

Spousal support or alimony is the legally binding amount of support that one spouse must pay to the other. The amount of spousal support is outlined in the divorce decree and is legally binding and enforceable.

Alimony can make divorce a costly affair for you. It is better for you and your spouse to come to an agreement on alimony rather than letting the judge decide. When left to the judge, he would consider the spouse’s standard of living income during the marriage, the financial needs of each spouse, and the resources both parties contributed during the marriage to assist each other in education or career.

Along with alimony, child support is another cost that can be quite burdensome for the parent who does not obtain custody of the child. Child support must be included in the final divorce order if the couple has minor children. The amount of alimony must be paid separately from alimony and depends on several factors, such as the spouses’ income, childcare costs, and the child’s educational and healthcare needs.

Assets such as real estate owned jointly by spouses during the marriage can be one of the most complex and controversial issues in divorce. Known as community property, assets owned jointly by a couple are distributed equally in California, which does not necessarily involve a 50-50 split between the parties.

As with spousal support, spouses can reach a property division agreement on their own without court intervention. In the absence of a settlement agreement between the parties, the judge must decide the matter under California law.

How much does it cost to hire a divorce lawyer in California in 2023?

On average, the cost of hiring a divorce attorney can range between $12,000 and $16,000, depending on the nuances of the case. The court fee may be one third of the aforementioned amount for divorces by mutual agreement in which the parties agree.

It is recommended to hire a divorce attorney, especially if it is an uncontested divorce. Attorney fees are the most significant expense you will incur during a divorce.

Most law firms adopt a billing system where their fees are charged by the hour. Some law firms may also have a flat fee if the divorce is relatively uncontested. Another alternative arrangement for attorneys’ fees has evolved in recent years, known as an alternative fee arrangement (AFA). It is a value-based presentation where the lawyer can choose the payment option and negotiate with the client about the same.

It should also be noted here that the legal fee, whether charged hourly, as a flat fee or as an alternative arrangement, varies greatly from one law firm to another. A large, reputable law firm with experienced divorce attorneys would charge more than a smaller law firm with lesser status or junior attorneys.

In addition to the legal fees charged by the lawyer, there are additional costs of hiring a law firm, which are mentioned below:

  • Consultation price
  • Retention rate
  • Copy and postage fee
  • Travel expenses (if applicable)
  • Fee for expert opinion or appraisal (not applicable).

How can you reduce the cost of your divorce?

Contrary to the popular belief that going without a lawyer is the only way to save costs, there are a number of arrangements in which you can mitigate the legal expenses of divorce even by having a lawyer by your side.

  • Alternative dispute resolution

Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation and collaborative divorce can significantly reduce a couple’s expenses. In mediation, a mediator is appointed to help the parties reach a mutually beneficial agreement and agree on the details of their divorce, such as child custody and a parenting plan. Under collaborative divorce, the parties avoid trial by resolving the matter outside of court with the help of their attorneys. These dispute resolution forms cost much less than a full-blown contested divorce involving litigation.

  • Limited scope representation

Under limited scope representation, parties save money on legal fees while performing simpler legal tasks that do not require expertise themselves. This reduces the amount of work a lawyer must do, thus decreasing legal fees.

  • Pro Bono Representation

A pro bono program is reduced-cost legal assistance where the law firm or attorney charges a modest amount in order to help low-income groups or disadvantaged people who cannot afford their legal fees.

You can find resources and ways to get low-cost legal help on the California Courts Self-Help Guide website here.


Are you looking for a California divorce lawyer to help you during this crucial stage of your life?

Dolores López is an experienced divorce attorney serving separated families in California with all aspects of family law. We offer a free initial evaluation of your case and will work to create the best possible fee agreement for you.

Contact us today for expert assistance and a stress-free divorce.