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How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Tennessee?

How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Tennessee?

As a divorce attorney, one of the very first questions I answer in initial consultations with clients is how much the divorce will cost.  This is always one of, if not the, most important concerns my clients have.  According to a survey conducted by Martindale-Nolo, the average divorce in the United States is $15,500 per side.  The average cost of divorce in Tennessee is $12,600 per side and if you have minor children, that average jumps to $18,900.  Those are very daunting numbers for the average person and, frankly, I find them somewhat hard to believe.  In my experience as a divorce attorney practicing in the Nashville, Tennessee area (Nashville, Franklin, Spring Hill, Columbia, Murfreesboro, and surrounding areas), the average divorce cost for my clients is under $5,000.  If this is all you were looking for and you’re ready to schedule a meeting, please go ahead and reach out to us now.  However, if you’d like to learn more about the cost of a divorce, read on.

I think it’s likely that the above survey averages are skewed by a few insanely high net-worth divorces with costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The more informative statistic (which I have not been able to find) is the mode cost of divorce nation or state-wide:  meaning the most frequent total cost of divorce and not the average.  The most typical divorce I’m involved in will settle at or before mediation and cost my client about $3,000.  It’s not unusual for me to be involved in an uncontested divorce that never exceeds $1,500.  If you are a “normal” person, I recommend you not be daunted by the survey’s high averages as I don’t believe they are likely to apply to your divorce.

While it’s easy to envision a divorce going well above $10,000 in costs per side (I’ve been involved in many), this is usually the type of divorce that does not settle and must be resolved via a trial.  Click here to learn more about the divorce process and learn when a trail would be necessary.  The vast majority of divorces settle before trial; in no small part due to the financial burden of contested divorce litigation.

At this point, you may be asking why there is so much uncertainty in the cost of a divorce.  After all, what other service provider (plumber, mechanic, roofer, etc.) do you ask for a price and they respond with “I don’t know” or “it depends”.  I can certainly appreciate how frustrating that can be for clients. The reason why attorneys can’t provide you with a set fee is that there are too many unknown variables that could have a drastic impact on the cost of your divorce.  Keep reading to see a list of expenses that you may or may not need to face in your divorce.

Types of Expenses in Divorce

The vast majority of the expense of a divorce will be your attorney fees; however, there are other fees you may find necessary to incur before your divorce is final.  Other expenses include:

Filing Fees

This is what you pay to the court to initiate your divorce.  Filing fees vary by county but are typically between $250 and $400. If you are responding to a divorce action and wish to file a counter compliant, you’ll need to pay a filing fee for that counter–usually around $100.  There are provisions in place that allow the initial payment of filing fees to be waived if the person filing the divorce is indigent, meaning they are unable to pay the filing fee. 

Service of Process Fees

This is what you will pay to the local sheriff’s department or a private process server to “serve” your spouse with divorce paperwork.  This fee is usually around $50 if the spouse being served with divorce papers is in the same county that the divorce is proceeding in; however, this amount can climb if the individual resides far away or attempts to evade being served. 

Subpoena Fees

These are nominal charges associated with the issuing of subpoenas (orders from the court requiring an individual to appear at a hearing or other legal proceeding).   The amount is usually under $10 per subpoena.

Real Estate Appraisal Fees

This is a common fee in divorces involving real property.  It is usually necessary to ascertain the fair market value of a piece of property when determining a fair division of the divorcing couples assets and debts.   This service usually ranges from $400 to $700 depending on the exact area and size of the property to be appraised. 

Expert Witness Fees

Generally speaking, an “expert” is the only person who can testify in court about an opinion, everyone else can only testify about things they have personally observed and have knowledge of.  Typical experts in family law matters include: mental health professionals, child therapists and counselors, forensic accountants, and other similar professionals.  Expert witnesses are not cheap and typically charge on an hourly basis with a minimum retainer.  Expect to pay at least $1,000 when retaining an expert witness.  In some highly contested cases the fees for an expert witness could be in the tens of thousands of dollars; this would be rare, but not unheard of. 

Private Investigator Fees

It is occasionally necessary to hire a private investigator to help obtain evidence in your divorce.  Similar to expert witnesses, private investigators typically charge by the hour and require a minimum payment upfront to get started.  Depending on how long you need the services of a private investigator, typical fees range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. 

Court Report Fees

Court reporters are individuals who transcribe oral legal proceedings into written documentation.   If your divorce is going to involve a deposition or hearing before the judge, you will need to hire a court reporter.   Court reporters charge by the hour and charge an additional fee should you wish to purchase a copy of the transcript they produce. Depending on the duration of your proceeding, a court reporter may charge anywhere from a couple hundred to a thousand dollars per proceeding. 

Mediation Fees

Mediation occurs in most divorce cases and is required in Tennessee before your divorce can proceed to a final trial.  Click here to learn more about the mediation process for divorce and child custody disputes in Tennessee.  A mediator typically charges by the hour and each side is responsible for half of the mediator’s fee.  Most mediators typically charge between $200 and $400 per hour  and most divorce mediations generally last between three and 8 hours. Therefore, the average person going through a divorce will be required to pay the mediator around $500.

Attorney Fees in Divorce

The vast majority of lawyers charge a retainer and bill against it, usually in tenth of an hour or quarter of an hour increments.  Most attorneys will base their retainer off the complexity of the divorce while the hourly rates will typically remain the same.  Common hourly rates for attorneys in the Nashville, Tennessee area are between $200 and $400.  Typically, attorneys in wealthier areas like Franklin and Brentwood will charge higher rates while attorneys in more rural areas like Columbia and Lawrenceburg will charge less.  That said, the most skilled and experienced attorneys, regardless of their location, usually charge the highest rates.  Every lawyer should go over their fees with you during your initial meeting and have them articulated in an agreement that you sign at the commencement of hiring him or her to represent you.  Not doing so is a red flag and you should consider hiring a different attorney.

Once the initial retainer has been depleted, your lawyer will usually ask you to pay an additional retainer or make monthly payments on any outstanding balance.  Some attorneys will always require that there be a minimum amount of money deposited with them.  If your balance gets too high or you fail to comply with the terms of the attorney-client agreement, expect your attorney to “withdraw” from representing you–essentially, fire you as a client.

Some attorneys charge a flat fee for the divorce, but this is rare and will generally only happen if the divorce is uncontested, meaning there is little to no negotiation and essentially everything is decided upon before the lawyer is hired.

How Much Will Your Divorce Cost

“How much will you charge me for this divorce?”  This is a question that every divorce attorney struggles to answer.  It’s an important and fair question and one I’m always happy to discuss; after all, divorce is a scary thing for people to go through and they want to know if they can afford it and what they’ll have left at the end of it.

The generic answer that most attorneys will provide you is that “it depends”.  This is a true statement, but it doesn’t really help you much.  You need to know dollars, not question marks.  As I wrote above, the reason why lawyers can’t tell you a specific amount that your divorce will cost is because of all the unknown factors that affect the cost of divorce.

Here’s a list of common factors that contribute to the total cost of your divorce:

Contested or Uncontested

A divorce is ultimately resolved in one of two ways:  either everything is agreed upon [an Uncontested Divorce–click here to read our Complete Guide to Uncontested Divorces in Tennessee] (this may or may not involve a lot of negotiation) and there is a settlement OR there are items that the spouses cannot agree upon and it must go to a final trial (a Contested Divorce).  Without question, this is the single most important factor in determining how much your divorce will cost. I’ve seen divorces with millions of dollars in play settle quickly with a relatively inexpensive amount of fees going to lawyers.  Conversely, I’ve seen divorces where the spouses hated each other so much they were willing to lose all of their savings-everything they’ve worked for in their marriage- and go into debt just in an attempt to “win” the divorce. The more contested your divorce is, the higher your attorney fees will be.

Minor Children

A divorce with minor children must involve a parenting plan.  This is the document that addresses how the parents will co-parent their children in light of the divorce.  At minimum, a divorce with minor children involves additional work in drafting and negotiating the parenting plan, which will add to the final cost of the divorce.  Unfortunately, parenting plans are often a point of contention in divorce as determining how to divide time with children and crafting a document that is in their best interest is one of the most subjective and disagreed upon aspects of family law.  The fact that you have minor children doesn’t mean your divorce is going to cost more than you can afford, but it does lead to at least a slight increase in attorney fees.

Money

Similar to having children, simply having a high amount of wealth doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the divorce will cost more money, but it does increase the likelihood of higher fees.  Again, like children, there is usually more work that must be done in a divorce involving high net-worth individuals.  For instance: assets must be valued and classified as separate or marital property, experts may need to be called on to provide accurate accountings, and retirement accounts must be divided in an appropriate way to eliminate any tax consequences.  Unfortunately, having money to fight over oftentimes leads to more contentious and costly divorces.

Drama

Unsurprisingly, there are very few divorces that don’t involve at least some amount of drama.  This is expected and certainly reasonable in light of the difficult and life-changing process that is a divorce.  That said, divorcing individuals who become consumed by and lost in the drama of the process often lose sight of their goals.  They waste resources chasing down meaningless details in an effort to satisfy their curiosity and confirm suspicions that have no effect on the final outcome of the divorce.  Compartmentalize your emotions as best you can from the legal process.  I recommend that my clients who struggle with this see a therapist while the divorce is pending so that there is a constructive outlet for these emotions.

Disorganization

If you are going to show up to your attorney’s office with coffee-stained and crumpled documentation, expect to pay their hourly rate as they organize your information for you–something you could (and should) do yourself.  Conversely, delivering everything your lawyer asks for in a neat and organized manner will shave hundreds of dollars or more off your legal bill.

The Person You’re Divorcing

It takes two to tango and, unfortunately, an unreasonable spouse can delay and add to the cost of your divorce.  You may be the most reasonable person who was ever divorced and propose a truly fair agreement, but if your spouse isn’t willing to sign, your divorce will have to be decided by a judge via a divorce trail.

The above isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does cover the most common variables that lead to a costly divorce.  Some of them can be avoided while others can’t.  Many of these factors can be assessed by a good divorce attorney on the first meeting with you; however, there are some aspects of a divorce that never come to light until the process is well underway.  This is why it is so difficult to give divorcing clients a specific fee when they ask how much their divorce may cost; some of the factors are unknown and some are completely out of the client’s control.

Who Pays Attorney Fees in a Divorce- Can I Make My Spouse Pay for the Divorce

“hat if my spouse did [insert bad thing] during our marriage, can I make him/her to pay my attorney’s fees?” This is a question I get frequently.  Most clients come to me seeking a divorce because of something their spouse did.  They feel that their spouse is the reason for the dissolution of the marriage and want him/her to be responsible for the costs associated with it.  

Generally, each side will pay their own attorney fees in a divorce, however, there are laws that allow one spouse to be reimbursed their reasonable attorney fees from the other.  For instance, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 36-5-103(c) provides that a spouse may recover their reasonable attorney fees for any action concerning a custody dispute or a dispute over alimony or child support.  If children are not involved, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 36-5-121 provides that an economically disadvantaged spouse may recover reasonable attorney fees from the other spouse via an alimony award.

Recovering your attorney fees is not as simple as requesting it because you are hurt or have been wronged; it can only be accomplished in certain circumstances and I recommend that you explore these options with your attorney.

Should You Hire an Attorney For Your Divorce

The most frugal and financially-strapped individuals out there often contemplate doing their divorce on their own, but this is rarely a good idea because you don’t know what you don’t know.  Representing yourself has little to do with how smart you are.  Lawyers spend years in school and practice learning the law and how to effectively convey it to a judge.  You are likely to be facing an attorney who has been in front of your specific judge dozens of times and is aware of all of that adjudicator’s preferences and tendencies.  Simply put, representing yourself is a recipe for disaster and should be avoided at all costs.

If money is tight, search for local attorneys online and inquire about pricing until you find one you can afford.  If you speak to an attorney you cannot afford, ask that person who they would recommend that could take your case at a lower rate.  Many people borrow money from friends and family.  I promise you that there are competent attorneys who will represent you for a few thousand dollars or perhaps even less.  

Lastly, regardless of how much money you can afford to pay an attorney, you might appreciate reading this article on the best ways to lower your attorney fees while going through a divorce; it has a lot of great tips on keeping costs down.

What If I Want to Hire an Attorney For My Divorce But My Spouse Controls the Money

Don’t worry, this is a common situation.  Many people are afraid to file for a divorce because they don’t have access to any funds and are too intimidated by their spouse to get out of the marriage.  At the very beginning of the divorce, your attorney can ask the Judge to order your spouse to pay your attorney fees (and living expenses) while your divorce is pending.  You may also be allowed to exclusively reside in your house.  Be sure to bring this situation up with your lawyer in your initial consultation.

Contact Us and Start to Make Things Better

Our office represents clients in divorce and other domestic relations and family law disputes.  Please contact us if you think we can help. Our first meeting with you will be a consultation to discuss all your needs and wishes and develop a strategy to put in place so that those goals can be realized.  And yes, we’ll also be happy to discuss our fees with you in detail.

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