Cheap divorce ?

As a family law attorney, one particular question I receive from potential divorce clients on a regular basis is “How cheap can we get this done?”  My answer is almost always “It depends.” The hardest part about being a family law attorney, like family lawyers Arlington TX can turn to, is figuring out how “cheap” we can make a divorce process. The answer depends on the facts in the case as well as what happens as the case progresses. Many potential clients are not satisfied with the “it depends” answer, as a quick internet search will reveal several websites that offer divorce packages from $99.00 on up. Quite often potential clients are unaware that there are additional costs associated with initiating a divorce and the flat rate fee they have viewed on the internet is far from what they will pay overall. This blog will give a brief explanation of costs and the “it depends” answer.

Upfront Costs

Every divorce action has automatic upfront costs to file a lawsuit in court. These costs known as filing fees can be different for each county and case. These costs will have to be paid in addition to the fees paid to a website or an attorney.  For instance, as of September 1, 2017, the filing fees for the following counties are:

Tarrant County, Texas

Divorce with Children filing fee – $345.00

Divorce without Children filing fee – $294.00

Dallas County, Texas

Divorce with Children filing fee – $348.00

Divorce without Children filing fee – $297.00

Ellis County, Texas

Original Divorce Petition filing fee – $278.00

*Ellis County does not make a distinction between divorce with or without children

Johnson County, Texas

Original Divorce Petition filing fee – $278.00

*Johnson County does not make a distinction between divorce with or without children

In addition to filing fees, there are other costs associated with a divorce. If the other spouse needs to be served with citation then an additional $8.00 will be charged to issue a citation to the other spouse. A citation is legal notice to the other spouse that a divorce has been filed. The citation will need to be served to the other spouse along with copies of the filed divorce petition. Typically, a process server or constable is used to serve citations. The costs can range from $78.00 on up depending on how much time is required to serve the other party.

If we were to recap for a moment. For example: Spouse A decides to use an online divorce website that advertises $99.00 divorce. Spouse A has one child with Spouse B and they live in Dallas County, Texas. The below breakdown is how much Spouse A would pay upfront to have the petition and corresponding documents prepared, case filed in court, and Spouse B served.

Website –                                                     $99.00

Dallas Divorce with Children filing fee –     $348.00

Citation –                                                      $8.00

Process Server/Constable –                         $78.00

TOTAL UPFRONT                                         $533.00

Contested or Uncontested

When I tell a potential client “it depends” I also follow that remark with a question of my own. “Is your case contested or uncontested?” Whether a case is contested or uncontested determines how much of a financial impact the divorce will have on a potential client. An uncontested case will cost a lot less than a contested case because the spouses have agreed to pretty much every aspect of the divorce. A true uncontested case, will only require the attorney/attorneys to fine tune the agreements and incorporate them into a final order to be entered in with the court.

A contested case will require a considerable amount of work to reach a solution for the divorcing spouses. In a contested case, the following may happen:

  1.     Temporary Orders Hearing

A temporary orders hearing is a hearing that allows the court to put a Band-Aid on the situation while the parties and their respective attorneys continue to work through the divorce. Preparation for a temporary orders hearing may range from simple to complex. The preparation will depend on the facts of the case and the evidence brought forth to prove any allegations by the spouse or spouses. Witnesses may need to be subpoenaed and interviewed prior to the hearing. The potential client will need to prepare with their attorney with regards to their testimony, evidence, courtroom etiquette etc. Preparation for a temporary orders hearing (although temporary) is treated the same way a final hearing is treated.

  1.     Mediation

Mediation is a process that allows the spouses to come to a settlement with their attorneys and a third party neutral mediator. Mediators have fees that can range from a few hundred dollars to several hundred dollars depending on the time required to reach a settlement.

  1.     Discovery

Discovery is the process of requesting information from the opposing side. Responding to a discovery request is not only time intensive but requires both the attorney and client to work together to answer the questions posed in discovery.

The above are just a few examples of what can transpire in a contested case. The costs associated with every step of a case will depend on the retainer agreement and the hourly charge by the attorney. For example:

Let us say an attorney Jerry has an hourly fee of $200. The attorney spends four (4) hours preparing for the temporary orders hearing by interviewing witnesses, preparing the client for the hearing, putting together the evidence for the hearing and researching case law for possible objections from the other side. The temporary orders hearing lasts three (3) hours. Then a few days later, the attorney receives a complex discovery request from the other side. The attorney spends another three (3) hours responding to the discovery request. So far, the attorney has spent ten (10) hours on the divorce case. If the attorney bills hourly the bill would be $2000.00. However, if there were no temporary orders hearing or discovery request, then there would be no $2000.00 bill. This is why “it depends” is the only answer an attorney can give when a potential client asks about the price.

Comparison with or without an attorney

It is inevitable that potential clients looking for a cheap divorce will analyze the cost savings through comparing how much a divorce will cost with or without an attorney. We will use the same examples of Spouse A and B as well as attorney Jerry in the example below:

Spouse A without attorney Jerry                                                   

Website drafts petition-                              $99.00                 

Dallas Divorce with Children filing fee –     $348.00

Citation –                                                      $8.00

Process Server/Constable –                         $78.00

Preparation for hearing-                              $0.00

Temporary Orders hearing-                         $0.00

Discovery response-                                     $0.00

TOTAL SO FAR                                                     $533.00

Spouse A with attorney Jerry

Attorney Jerry drafts petition-                     $200.00 estimated one hour

Dallas Divorce with Children filing fee –     $348.00

Citation –                                                      $8.00

Process Server/Constable –                         $78.00

Preparation for hearing-                              $800.00

Temporary Orders hearing-                         $600.00

Discovery response-                                     $600.00

TOTAL SO FAR                                                     $2634.00

Looking at the cost comparison it is clear that the costs for Spouse A are “cheaper” without an attorney. The differences between the two are not so clear. What many potential clients do not realize is that the websites that offer cheap divorces do not prepare them for the divorce case. Potential clients are not well-versed in the courtroom nor are they well versed in responding to discovery. Potential clients often attempt to complete a divorce on the “cheap” and end up hiring an attorney to fix their mistakes. The costs potential clients save handling a case on their own may very well end up costing them much more in the end.

No really how can I keep the divorce on the cheap?

Here is how you can keep the divorce on the cheap.

  1.     Talk with your spouse

Open communication about the wants and needs of each individual during a divorce goes a long way. The simple act of communication may end up saving each spouse thousands of dollars of fees.

  1.     Set realistic expectations

In many cases, potential clients believe they can get everything they want in a divorce. Realistically, that may not be the case in their particular divorce. A realistic expectation will help keep the situation grounded.

  1.     Pick your battles

There are stories where spouses have spent thousands of dollars fighting over miniscule items just because they did not want the other spouse to have it. There is a huge difference in fighting for a frying pan versus fighting for a million-dollar property. Think about what you are fighting for and whether it is worth spending the money to fight for it.

  1.     Get your attorney everything they ask for.

This cannot be stressed enough. If your attorney asks for a document, get it to them as soon as possible.

  1.     Be upfront and honest with your attorney

Your attorney is there to help you through your case. Your spouse knows all the details of the marriage good and bad. The last thing you want is to have evidence presented in court that you did not share with your attorney.

  1.     Be open to settlement

Settling a case is much more cost effective than fighting a case until the end. Keeping an open mind about settlement allows each spouse to think about what they truly want during the divorce.

  1.     Control your emotions

Divorce is an emotional event. One of the best ways to control your emotions is to pinpoint what is driving the emotion. Emotional decisions during a divorce can have far lasting implications on the wallet.

  1.     Speak with an attorney

This step is for the potential clients who choose to use a flat fee web based divorce product. Many web sites offer blanket forms for divorce but do not fully explain everything with regards to a divorce. Property, retirement, child issues and debt often are too complex for basic forms. Imagine getting a divorce only to realize that you gave your spouse the house and all the property simply because you checked the wrong box on a blanket form. Imagine getting a divorce and realizing that you have no access and possession to your children because you signed the wrong form. Issues such as these have happened on numerous occasions. Speaking with an attorney and even having the attorney go through the documents can save you heartache in the future.


Thanks to our friends and contributors from Brandy Austin Law Firm, PLLC for their insight into divorce law practice.