How Much Will My Divorce Cost in New York?

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As a divorce attorney, I field hundreds of different questions, but one question that is asked by every client is how much their divorce action will cost them. Unfortunately, there are so many variables in a divorce that it is difficult to assess all of the fees that you will incur prior to the filing of your action.

Court Fees

Court fees are the same throughout the NY area and do not vary by person. These fees are always paid by the client (or their spouse) unless the party seeking a divorce is deemed a poor person by the courts (you must apply for poor person status prior to filing for your divorce in order to have your fees waived). For all other individuals, New York State charges an Index Number Fee of $210.00 to start the action. In even the simplest divorces, additional fees of $95.00 and 30.00 will be charged by the court to have a Judgment signed (for the Request for Judicial Intervention and Note of Issue papers).  As you can see, for a non-poor person to obtain a divorce, court fees will be $335.00 at a minimum.

Additional Divorce Filing Costs

Additional fees of $45.00 are charged for any motions filed, and if you wish to enter into a written Stipulation of Settlement after the action is started, a $35.00 fee is charged. You may not need to file motion or settlement papers (depending on your circumstances).

Your initial divorce papers will need to be served on your spouse. Fees for this service may vary from $100.00 – 200.00 (unless your spouse is avoiding service or cannot be located).

All of the fees listed above are charged by the court or a third-party process server and do not include any attorney fees that you may have.

Divorce Attorney Fees

Your attorney fees will vary based on your circumstances. The attorney / law firm that you speak with may charge anything from 250.00 to 450.00 per hour of work, and in most cases, require a retainer deposit upfront to secure his / her fees and have the attorney / firm formally 'appear' in the action. Attorneys who ‘appear’ in actions on behalf of clients cannot simply ‘quit’ or withdraw from your action without court permission (even if you owe them money), so a retainer is security for the lawyer that guarantees that they will be paid (at least the retainer amount) for their services.

Determining Divorce Lawyer Costs

The amount of your retainer is determined by your attorney based upon their view of what your case would require to finish (Will motions be necessary? Will there be numerous court appearances?). Also, if they feel that they are worth more than other attorneys (based on experience, training or their ego) then their hourly fee will generally be higher.

The following items will add some degree of ‘complexity’ to your divorce action (and, in most cases, additional fees if contested by your spouse.)

  • Does your spouse agree to getting divorced? Good. That will generally result in much less required court appearances.
  • Do you and your spouse agree on how to split your property? Agreeing upon property issues also results in less court costs. If you do not agree, you may need to hire accountants, business and/or home appraisers, and experts in order to obtain values on the property owned.
  • Do you and your spouse agree to matters relating to child custody, visitation and support? Once again, agreeing upon these issues generally lowers the cost of your divorce as well.
  • If custody is at issue, the court may believe that it is necessary to appoint a “Lawyer for The Children” (formerly known as a Law Guardian), who meets with your children, reviews the facts and makes suggestions to the court on how custody should be determined. The Attorney for the Children will have to be paid their own retainer amount by the parties themselves.
  • Do you own any significant property? Is there a marital residence or retirement assets? In general, a couple divorcing with no significant property will incur substantially less in fees than a couple with much more property to divide. Once again, services of companies other than lawyers may be necessary here.

What Really Matters when Considering the Cost of a Divorce

While these items are important, the aspect of your divorce that has the strongest bearing on your divorce is YOUR SPOUSE. Your spouse may act in a mature and reasonable manner during your divorce or be completely irrational. The actions of your spouse with regard to your divorce will have the greatest bearing in any divorce, as a non-combative spouse ALWAYS results in fewer costs and will help to minimize your emotional stress.

Judging Whether to Settle with Your Spouse or Seek More

Further, your own finances will also have an effect on the legal fees required in your action. In order to avoid legal costs and fees, some divorcing couples settle their issues for less than what each partner wants. Any good attorney will address the costs of additional legal fees when negotiating a settlement. Many times you will have to choose whether what you are seeking is worth the time and cost (and risk of not getting such relief).

Overall, it is difficult to determine how much your divorce is going to cost simply because you may not be able to determine how your spouse will react to your request for the divorce. I do stick by one rule, however:

If any lawyer promises any result (or total fee) prior to seeing how your spouse reacts to the divorce, then they are most likely not being completely honest and not worth dealing with. There are no crystal balls in the practice of divorce law, only possible scenarios that may (or may not) occur.


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