How Much Are California Divorce Costs?
There will be 2 components to your total California divorce cost. Those are (1) the Superior Court filing fee and (2) the fee(s) you will pay to whatever professional service(s) you decide to hire to prepare your divorce papers and/or file your divorce papers at your local Superior Court and/or serve your divorce papers on your spouse/partner.
At this update (May 2019), the Superior Court divorce filing fee for all counties except Riverside and San Francisco is $435. In Riverside and San Francisco Counties, the Superior Court filing fee for divorce is $450.
That Superior Court filing fee has not changed for several years. Bear in mind that it can change at any time.
If you have a low income or receive certain types of public assistance, such as Medi-Cal, Food Stamps or CalWORKS, you can apply to the court to waive the Superior Court filing fee.
Costs included at (2) above are the prices paid by a divorce consumer to one or more divorce professionals in exchange for actual divorce services. Those services may include legal advice from a lawyer (optional and case-specific), representation by a lawyer (optional and case specific), document preparation (essential), filing at court (essential but can be handled easily and without cost by the consumer), service of documents on the Respondent (essential but can be done, with minimal instruction, by any friend or relative, 18 or older, and without cost to the divorce consumer) or other ancillary divorce related services (highly optional) such as divorce/life counseling or professional serving of the documents on the Respondent.
In some contested, complex or high-dollar value cases, there may be additional professional fees such as those charged by real estate valuers, accountants, tax advisers, mediators, pension specialists, etc, but those are basically still (2) fees described above. The more contested, the more complex and the more high-dollar value your divorce is, the more and the higher the professional fees will be. And there is no upper limit to those (2) fees. If you and your spouse are very wealthy and/or very emotional, you can very quickly escalate fees sky high.
Fortunately, these types of cases are relatively rare. The vast majority of California divorces are uncontested divorces that could be described economically as middle-class or upper-middle class divorces.
Bear in mind also that many divorce-related costs are either not economic or they are highly specific to the individual divorce consumer’s case. Emotional costs and indirect economic costs are impossible to quantify. They are not included here, but they almost always exist.
An Overview of California Divorce Costs
It’s been a few years since NetDivorce did an overview of California divorce costs. There have been some recent trends and developments in California divorce costs. There are some signs that California attorneys are finally beginning to fight back against online divorce websites. The trends include lower-cost un-bundled services where the lawyer does only a document review and case strategy service and the divorce consumer does the legwork in the case. Another trend is online divorce software itself being used by local lawyers. Online divorce software empowers you in your own case, cuts your costs drastically, increases accuracy and crunches the huge paperwork and logic loads in California divorce.
These trends are advantageous for divorce consumers. So it’s time to do a re-cap of California divorce costs based on these trends.
We’ve used the following table to compare costs paid to certain groups of service providers. This table provides a good overview of how different sectors of the divorce industry are segmenting and specializing. Below the table, we provide more detail on each group.
So the best way to proceed is to find one or two groups in the table that sound like they may apply to you and your divorce. Then look lower down for more detail to assist with your choice.
Divorce Cost Table
|Group 1||Do-It-Yourself||$0||Low Quality; No Professional Guidance; No Complete Instructions Available; Time Consuming; Many Rejections of Your Documents by the Court; Frustrating; Very Difficult to Accomplish in 2019 and Beyond; NOT RECOMMENDED|
|Group 2||NetDivorce||$129||High-Quality; No Fraud; Flat Fee; No Ups or Extras; 38+ Years Experience in California Divorce Only; Local Knowledge; Cost Effective; Great Client Testimonials|
|Group 3||Low Quality Fraudulent Online Divorce Mill||$139-$300 but these are not complete fees; these are mostly monthly subscriptions; they hit your credit card every month||Unlicensed; Unregulated; Low Quality Work; No Legal Advice Provided; No Accountability; Most Located Out-of-State or in India; Lots of Fraud, Trickery and Up-Selling; Lots of Mistakes That Affect Your Legal and Economic Rights for Many Years; No Local Knowledge; This Includes getdivorcepapers,com, mydivorcepapers.com, instantonlinedivorce.com, onlinedivorce.com, completecase.com. Referral Scam. Monthly Subscription Scam|
|Group 4||High Quality Online Divorce Mill||$750-$1000||Unlicensed; Unregulated; High Quality Work; No Legal Advice Provided; No Accountability; Lots of Up-Selling; This Group is Relatively New. It Tries to Make You Think That if You Pay a LOT, You'll Avoid the Low Quality of Group 3, and You Will, but You'll Vastly Overpay; Referral Scam. Includes itsovereasy.com, wevorce/legalzoom.com, separate.us|
|Group 5||Local Legal Document Assistant||$400-$700||High Quality; No Fraud; Full Accountability; California-Licensed Professional; Local Knowledge; Cost Effective: Local; This Is the Way To Go If You're Looking For Low-cost and Face-time.|
|Group 6||Local Online Divorce Lawyer||$400-$900||High Quality; No Fraud; Full Accountability; California-Licensed Professional; Local Knowledge; Cost Effective: Uses Lawyer Only Where Needed; Scaleable As Needed; This is a Cross Between DIY and Full Legal Representation; This is the Best of Both Worlds.|
|Group 7||Local Divorce Lawyer -Traditional Full Representation||$2500-$5000+|
(There really is no upper limit)
|High Quality; No Fraud; Full Accountability; California-Licensed Professional; Local Knowledge; Convenient; At Least 2.5X Overpriced for an Uncontested Divorce; Definitely Needed For Contested, Complex, High Dollar Value and Domestic Violence Cases|
Do-It-Yourself – Group 1
This means that you download the three batches (in most cases) of blank forms from the court website and try to figure out how to complete them and what to do with them. This is real Do It Yourself divorce. It used to be possible in the 80’s and early 90’s. If you think it still is, good luck. According to a recent Insider Monkey survey, California divorce is the second most difficult in the country. It is designed by lawyers to trip you up and make you hire a lawyer. You will not succeed at California divorce DIY in 2019 and beyond.
Please remember that if you are considering NetDivorce as a service provider, our industry-low fee of $129 only permits us to handle divorce from beginning to end. We cannot come into a case that has been prepared and filed by you and messed up. However, any Group 7 divorce lawyer will.
Don’t go it alone in California divorce. It is always false economy.
Niche Online Divorce Service – Group 2
As far as we are aware, this is a category of one – NetDivorce. NetDivorce is a California specialist online divorce website. We handle only California divorce and we’ve been doing nothing but California divorce since June 1, 1981 (including our pre-internet company, California Legal Assistance Centers).
NetDivorce is also not a law firm, but is owned and operated by a lawyer with 38+ years of experience in California divorce. He proofreads all of your docs. Additionally, our other senior caseworker has prepared over 25,000 Marital Settlement Agreements since 1985. Why would you pay more than $129 for a California uncontested divorce prepared by non-lawyer experts? That $129 is a complete fee – with no ups or extras ever. It is not a monthly subscription fee like those in Group 3. You cannot pay us more. Don’t even ask.
Unlicensed, Unregulated, Nationwide Online Divorce Mills, Located Out-of-State or in India or Dubai – Group 3
Just going to put this small table here – it features the 4 biggest service providers in this group. There are many problems in this group. Stay away.
|completecase.com||$299||Price Fraud - This fee is for the first 30 days only.|
|getdivorcepapers.com||$139||1. Price Fraud - This fee is for the first 30 days only. |
2. Based in India
3. Incompetent - 105 complaints and F rating at BBB
|onlinedivorce.com||$139||1. Price Fraud - This fee is for the first 30 days only.|
2. Labeled as misleading advertisers by BBB.
3. Incompetent - 74 complaints and F rating at BBB
|mydivorcepapers.com||$139||1. Price Fraud - This fee is for the first 30 days only.|
2. Incompetent - 80 complaints and F rating by BBB.
3. Uses self-owned fake client testimonial site.
High Quality Online Divorce Mills – Group 4
This is the latest fragmentation of the online divorce mill group. These are high cost, high quality hipster online divorce mills. At this writing, there are basically 4 online divorce mills in this group – itsovereasy.com ($750+), legalzoom.com-Wevorce ($949+), separate.us $999 and hellodivorce.com ($99 per month – in most cases that would be a $400 to $600 fee).
All of these online divorce providers have incredibly cool websites. They are all extreme up-sellers and basically tell you that up front. They all have different levels of service and their prices vary very widely for those levels of service. The prices I’ve listed above for each provider in Group 4 are for the same level of service provided by NetDivorce for $129.
The only service listed in the Wevorce list that NetDivorce doesn’t provide is a “closure process.” At least, we don’t think we provide it. We’re not sure because Wevorce doesn’t disclose what a closure process is. NetDivorce provides a final email to tell our client that she’s done with her divorce and to thank her very much for her business and wish her all the best in the future. Is that a closure process? If so, that email must be worth $820.
Some of these high-end online divorce mills have flash Hollywood divorce lawyers fronting them, but don’t be fooled. None of these providers is a law firm. They will up-sell you to a law firm in a heartbeat. In fact, everything is extra in Group 4 – even the aromatherapy is not included. I’m not joking. Wevorce mentions, “other legal, co-parenting and financial experts,” “emotional issues,” etc. that are clearly not in their list of services for $949.
Group 4 exists because the marketers behind these companies know and understand that there is a sector of the uncontested divorce market that believes that if a divorce service is any good it must be very expensive. If that works for you, then overpaying provides you with that warm feeling, and that’s just fine. Just sign up and hold onto your wallet.
The main reason I don’t recommend Group 4 is that if you want to pay $750-$1000 for a simple uncontested divorce in California, that amount of fee gets you a LOCAL Group 6 online divorce lawyer on an unbundled uncontested divorce document review and case strategy basis. In other words, the best of both worlds – online divorce PLUS a local divorce lawyer on your team. Group 6 is a far better option than Group 4 – for the same money!
Local California-Licensed Legal Document Assistants – Group 5
Local main-street bricks and mortar type paralegals (now called Legal Document Assistants) have existed in California divorce since the 70’s. Now they are California-licensed and regulated. They have continuing legal education requirements just like lawyers.
Group 5 and Group 6 divorce service providers are similar. The main difference is that Group 6 are lawyers and Group 5 are trained divorce professionals, but not lawyers. Both are local. Unlike an out-of-state online divorce mill, you can make an appointment to go see them. They are all California-licensed and strictly regulated by the state and by their own professional associations.
Because Group 5 are not lawyers, they are less expensive.
To find a local Legal Document Assistant near you, go to Online Divorce PRO and enter your 5 digit zip code to find a local LDA near you.
Local California-Licensed Online Divorce Lawyers – Group 6
Online Divorce, unbundled services (sometimes called “limited representation”) and virtual law practice are the three major developing trends in California family law practice that seek to fight back against the fraud and incompetence of Group 3 and Group 4 online divorce mills.
Online divorce empowers you in your own case and crunches the huge logic and paperwork load in California uncontested divorce. Virtual law practice techniques also keep costs down by using office-efficiencies, software that crunches large amounts of paperwork, hi-tech tools and cloud-based solutions that rival those of online divorce websites. Unbundled and virtual often go hand in hand. These are healthy trends for both the Bar and California divorce consumers. If you want a lawyer just to prepare your docs but provide no representation (but of course be on hand, with full knowledge of your case, should it blow up into a contested case), this is your best option. Be prepared for some limitations on phone calls and emails. You won’t have a lawyer “on call.” However, you can buy more communications and other add-on services as they are needed.
Here are the advantages of using an Online Divorce Lawyer:
- A local licensed California lawyer reviews your legal docs before they are filed
- You use, and pay for, a lawyer only where and when one is needed
- The lawyer can provide a legal rights checkup and legal advice and discusses strategy with you, as determined by the facts of your case
- If a problem develops in the case, you already have a lawyer on your side who is familiar with the case and can step in at a different fee to litigate or mediate the problems that have arisen
- If your case remains uncontested and no problems arise, you pay a competitive fee that is similar to those charged by unqualified, out-of-state online divorce mills for much less valuable work
- See our Online Divorce Lawyer Locator – Just enter your 5-digit home zip code.
Full Traditional Lawyer Representation – Group 7
You will likely over-pay in Group 7, but you will get a qualified licensed divorce lawyer in your local area. S/he will know California law, local courts, judges and rules. A lawyer must treat you ethically or face career-threatening regulation from the Bar Association. A lawyer representing you on a full traditional basis will do a full legal and economic rights checkup. All work in your divorce will be done for you by the lawyer and/or his or her professional staff.
In a contested divorce, complex divorce, high dollar value divorce or a divorce where there is domestic violence or the threat of domestic violence, Group 7 is your only realistic and effective option.
1-800-DIVORCE is a good place to look for a Group 7 full representation divorce lawyer because there is only one 1-800-DIVORCE lawyer in each city. Therefore, the local divorce lawyer who has signed up to be the exclusive 1-800-DIVORCE is not only going to be well-experienced (because of the extra work 1-800-DIVORCE brings him or her) but also that lawyer is telling you that s/he is creative, bold, innovative, decisive and stands out from the local lawyer-crowd. This is the type of divorce lawyer you want to handle your case. You do not want your divorce handled by some dead-head who stands in line with all other local divorce lawyers and looks and acts exactly like all other divorce lawyers. You’re looking for unique.
In fact, why would you trust your own legal and economic future to a lawyer who does not even safeguard his or her own economic future? Call or click 1-800-DIVORCE.
California Divorce Costs – Conclusions
- If your case is going to be contested, complex, high-dollar value or involve domestic violence or the threat of domestic violence, hire a Group 7 local divorce lawyer on a full traditional representation basis. 1-800-DIVORCE is a good place to find the dynamic local divorce lawyer you seek. Call or click 1-800-DIVORCE.
- If your case is uncontested and will stay that way, why would you pay more than $129 for a complete California divorce, including unlimited client support, prepared by experts who handle nothing but California divorce? If this describes your case, NetDivorce is a no-brainer. Check out here why we are so cheap.
- If your case is uncontested and you don’t mind spending a little extra money to have a local professional on your side, consider hiring a local California Licensed Legal Document Assistant or a California-licensed Online Divorce Lawyer.