DO YOU REALLY WANT A CHEAP DIVORCE IN CALIFORNIA?
The obvious and correct answer is, “yes,” but it’s still a trick question. What is a cheap divorce in California?
A cheap divorce, a low cost divorce or an affordable divorce are all relative to the facts of your case. There is no dollar figure in costs that automatically qualifies as a cheap divorce.
If you have a $10 million marital estate, both of you pull down 6 figures, there are retirement plans to be divided, a business to be valued and, while you are both generally in agreement, there are a couple of sticky issues remaining, then a $3500-$5000 lawyer’s fee, and maybe another $1500 on any necessary mediation, IS a cheap divorce – a VERY cheap divorce.
Conversely, if you pay $300 to an unqualified out-of-state online divorce mill and they prepare your first batch of docs and you file the case at court (it’s very easy to get to this stage), but the online divorce mill is clueless about your state’s laws and your local county’s practices and Rules of Court when it gets to the much more difficult Judgment stage and you then have to hire a local lawyer at $2500 to finalize your uncontested case, that’s NOT a cheap divorce. The $300 seemed cheap, but you ended up throwing good money after bad.
So how do you get a cheap divorce in California? First, look harshly at the facts of your case. Are you and your spouse/partner in dispute on some major issue? Do you have a lot (probably more than $5M net) of property? A special-needs child? A complex tax or trust situation? These are all indicators that you should hire a local lawyer on a traditional full representation basis. The cost will be based on what’s involved, and regrettably, to some extent, on what the lawyer thinks s/he can charge (based on the known size of your marital estate and your incomes). You’ll be looking at $3500+ each. In a full-blown contested case, you can easily get to $15000-$25000 each.
If you and your spouse/partner are in general agreement on the divorce itself but there are a couple of thorny issues remaining, then a sensible path forward would be to hire a local California lawyer on an un-bundled basis. That means you act, at least temporarily, as your own attorney in the case, but the local lawyer will prepare your documents. S/he will ask you many questions and prepare your docs with a full legal understanding of your situation. You will have a good legal basis on which to complete your case.
If you and your spouse/partner can eventually reach agreement, you’ll be able to finalize the case – still on an unbundled basis. You should be able to find a local California lawyer in the $600-900 range for an un-bundled service in an uncontested divorce. You’ll have to do your own filing at court and arrange for a third party to serve your spouse, but the lawyer will tell you how and those actions are easy.
On an unbundled uncontested California divorce, $600-$900 is a good price for the local legal knowledge, the legal and economic rights checkup the lawyer will automatically provide and for the insurance policy of having a local lawyer who knows your case should the case blow up and become contested. You pay a little extra for the flexibility, but it’s worthwhile.
So, before proceeding to your divorce hiring decision, you should be fairly harsh in analyzing your case. If you suspect that you need a lawyer, whether unbundled or on a full representation basis, you probably do. Our article, Lawyers vs Non-Lawyers in California Divorce provides much insight on that specific decision.
However, what if you and your spouse/partner are in complete agreement, or will be, on all issues and have none of the lawyer-triggering factors in your case. You don’t need to pay for insurance. You need someone who knows how to prepare your case competently, but most importantly, knows how to finish your case. You want and need a cheap divorce. What do you do to get one?
Once you have decided you don’t need a lawyer, it gets easier. You take advantage of the cost-cutting benefits of online divorce, but you reduce the risk of hiring a national divorce mill that has no idea what it is doing in your local divorce. Don’t fall into the knowledge trap of big national online divorce mills. It is easy to prepare the first batch of docs to file your case at court. It is not so easy to finalize a case. California has the second toughest divorce procedure in the country. It can be tricky. You have to know what you are doing to finalize cases. You must know local Rules of Court. You must understand the California divorce process.
Look for an online divorce company that handles only California divorce. Look for one that has many years of experience in California divorce only. Above all, look for one that knows what it is doing. If you can find one that is owned and operated by a lawyer, all the better.
NetDivorce and its pre-internet company, California Legal Assistance Centers, has handled nothing but California divorce since June 1, 1981. NetDivorce is owned and operated by our two senior caseworkers, Ed (31+ years of experience in California divorce) and Peter (35+ years in California divorce and has been a lawyer for 40 years). Peter wrote the world’s first divorce software package in 1983 and put up the world’s first online divorce website (divorceweb.com) in March 1999. NetDivorce is now the premium online divorce service specializing in California divorce only. We know what we are doing. We know California law and local practices and Rules of Court. We are experts in recognizing divorce issues. We will always know how to finalize your case.
You will be able to tell your friends that you got a low-cost divorce through NetDivorce. We don’t mind that, but let’s face it. Between you and us, you will have obtained a cheap divorce, and there’s nothing wrong with that.