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Three options for your divorce, and why the fees and costs vary so much

Posted by Elizabeth Steen | May 10, 2021 | 0 Comments

Everyone deserves a clear picture of the process and steps to get a divorce. The process has changed significantly in the last 10 years, to the point that even many lawyers haven't fully caught up to the changes. Here are the three large categories: 

1) Uncontested, court forms only: Either you or a paralegal fill out your court forms correctly and deliver them to the court FLIC office here with a filing fee. This is the cheapest option, and if you have no assets or children, it definitely makes the most sense. There's very little legal strategy involved. The main job is the court paperwork. Cost ranges from $450 to $1800 not including the $314 court filing fee. This includes:

  • Court Forms, but no Settlement Agreement (because there are no assets to settle).
  • You may also have a parenting plan, but it will only be as detailed as the court forms allow. 
  • Time frame is as quick as you can get your info on what you want in your paperwork, so generally 1-2 weeks. 

2) Uncontested/Settlement Negotiations, may also be called "Collaborative Divorce:" Either with a neutral professional or on your own, you work out the legal options to divide your assets, including house, retirement accounts, RSUs, and child support. Cost is generally about $1500-3500. This is the process that Bill and Melinda Gates followed. This includes: 

  • A Settlement Agreement that sets up conditions around the parenting plan, child support, and divides your assets with details (who stays in the house while it's being sold, who's responsible for mortgage payments, what happens if one party wants to sell and the other changes their mind...) 
  • Child Support detailed worksheets and categories for spending based on legal guidelines used by the courts.
  • Court forms and filing so you don't have to go to court. 
  • Your Settlement Agreement operates as a final order, so this is a good option if you need to buy property (Melinda Gates bought her new house three weeks before filing court paperwork), rent a new place, or make any financial arrangements, because this way you won't have to wait 90 days for the court to send out a final order. 
  • Time frame depends on how long you need to think about your options. If you decide quickly, you be done almost as quickly as a court-forms-only process, or 1-2 weeks. If you need longer to decide, then you're free to take as much time as you need.  
  • A "full" collaborative divorce usually involves two lawyers, a parenting coach, and a financial professional. Scheduling these meetings can take more time, so the process generally takes about a year and costs about $10,000. A less involved collaborative process is much cheaper, however. 

3) Litigation: Each of you negotiate for or against child support payments to be set at a certain rate, visitation schedules, and various asset divisions. This includes: 

  • Following the court's litigation calendar found here. This generally involves updates to the court, service of process, and filing a detailed financial declaration including all of your bank records, tax filings, and other financial information. 
  • The time frame can vary. Generally your trial will be scheduled more than a year after your petition is filed. Trials can take several weeks, and a decision from the court may take a few months after that (although often the decision is handed down at the end of the trial). 
  • King County has mandatory mediation before you are allowed to schedule a trial. Most people end up settling in the mediation (usually because they don't want to pay the $15,000 trial retainer to each individual lawyer if mediation fails). 
  • You don't always need a lawyer for litigation. Many people use a paralegal to manage the court calendar, and consult with a lawyer or a Domestic Violence clinic for help with their strategy. Judges are required to be understanding and helpful to parties who do NOT have a lawyer, so many people opt to move forward without a traditional two-lawyer model, and just supplement their court case with outside help, to save fees. 
  • Costs can vary. Most people pay at least $15,000 (for each party) in a case that settles before trial. A trial will cost another $21,000 or so, making court a very expensive option. Using a paralegal or a lawyer consultant can save fees, but you should still expect to spend at least $10,000. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Steen

Elizabeth Steen is licensed in Washington State as well as Washington D.C. After work, Elizabeth enjoys making her West Seattle renowned flan recipe with her daughter, which she’s willing to share with favorite clients. She also enjoys hiking, yoga and chasing her family’s fantasy football league title every fall.

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