Divorces in the U.S. are becoming so common that states across the map are searching for new ways to ease the process for consumers.
While money may not be your top concern while going through one, divorce can be terribly expensive for both parties. The average divorce costs about $US20,000. And not all states — or even cities — are created equally when it comes to legal fees.
To get a sense of how location affects the costs of getting a divorce, we reached out to AttorneyFee.com, a site that tracks legal fees, for help compiling the average rate for divorce attorneys in cities across the U.S.
Here are nine cities where calling it quits will cost you the most:
1. Los Angeles
The filing fee in California alone is enough to make any couple cringe, clocking in at just under $US400. The state’s also infamous for its 50/50 community property law, which splits a couple’s earnings down the middle in most cases — unless there’s a prenup.
“A small trial can run from $US40,000 to $US80,000 in California (on the low-end) to $US75,000 to $US150,000,” says family law attorney Steve Mindel. “And that’s for the upper-middle class. These are not the ultra-wealthy.”
Apart from legal fees that rival big city neighbour NYC, Newark couples looking to split really get hit in the wallet by the time the process takes.
“The process is relatively long (longer than St. Louis but shorter than PA) at around 18 months in the area near Philly,” Williams says. “Their (spousal support) laws are archaic.”
That all could very well change soon, as the state is looking to update the books on divorce after Massachusetts successfully modernized its own laws earlier this year.
3. New York
Maybe the reason New York boasts one of the country’s lowest divorce rates (7%) is because people just can’t afford it.
The state was also the last in the country to implement no-fault divorce, which allows couples to dissolve their marriage without proving fault with either party, but filers must undergo a six-month “cooling off” period beforehand.
4. San Francisco
California’s overhauling its court system to become more accessible to individuals seeking dissolution of marriage, Lowenstein says. For instance, all cases must be reviewed within 180 days.
But, like many others, its municipal court systems are getting slammed by budget cuts at the same time, making it tougher for clerks and attorneys to meet demands.
Miami may fall in the middle of the top 10, but Florida as a whole charges the highest filing fee in the country for couples seeking divorce — it tops even California’s going rate ($395) at $US409.
State lawmakers are also being pushed to revamp alimony laws, which activists say unfairly favour women over men.
6. Las Vegas
Keep in mind Las Vegas resides in one of only nine states to exert community property law. If you’ve got sticker shock, here’s a little comfort for those looking to call it quits:
The city has one of the quickest processing times in the country and requires people to be residents for just six weeks before filing. In fact, divorce is so common on the strip that it’s been dubbed the “divorce mill.“
Hey, when residents are scrambling to win free divorces in radio contests, you know something’s gotta be up.
7. San Diego
Fees are so high in California that nearly 80% of individuals filing for dissolution of marriage in San Diego opt to skip lawyers altogether, according to family law attorney Michele Sacks Lowenstein.
“It’s a huge problem (because) they don’t know what they’re doing in court,” she says. “Ultimately, divorce is just another civil case. It’d be like representing yourself in a car accident. Would you really know what to do?”
The real cost associated with divorce trials has much to do with how long the state takes to process cases. If you ask Williams, that makes Pennsylvania one of the worst in the country, with average process periods of three years in some cities.
“I would not want to get divorced in Pennsylvania, to put it that way,” he says. “That’s a real burden both emotionally and financially.”
Fees are so high in the Lone Star state that in 2010, the state’s Supreme Court created a task force to handle consumers looking to file without legal assistance.
“They still won’t order (alimony) unless it’s a marriage of 10 years,” says Spencer Williams of Cordell and Cordell, P.C. “Then they max it out at $US5,000 (per month).”