Cost of Divorce in California

Jan 16, 2023

Everyone knows at least one person who has been financially crippled by the cost of divorce. These horror stories are all over the internet, and have caused more than one unhappy spouse to rethink their decision to break it off.

However, while divorce can be expensive, there are a lot of ways to cut down on these costs, without sacrificing valuable legal representation.

Here’s what you need to know about the cost of divorce in California, what the Provinziano team can do to help you get divorced within whatever budget you set for yourself.

How Much Does Divorce Cost?

You’ve been all over the internet trying to figure this out. No matter how many articles you skim, though, you can’t seem to find a straight answer—not even here, apparently!

Trust us. As frustrating as this is, we promise it’s not just a clever marketing scheme designed to get you to click on our contact information.

Instead, the reason no one can give you hard facts, is because we literally have no idea. Each case is different, and the cost can vary wildly, depending on individual circumstances, type of divorce, and a couples’ overall ability to compromise (among other things).

Here’s what we can tell you, though…

The Average Cost of Divorce

On average, California residents spend about $17,500 on divorce.

Finally! A hard number, right? Don’t get too excited, yet.

While this amount might be accurate, it means very little when you consider that the range for divorce can be as low as $435 (the minimum amount required to file for divorce), and up into the millions (hello, celebrity breakups!).

To get a better idea of how much your divorce will cost, you’ll need to talk to an experienced family law attorney. Knowing the facts helps them provide a much more accurate estimate, and enables them to develop a cost-effective legal strategy to fit your needs.

Speaking of lawyers, though…

Attorneys Are the Most Expensive Part of Divorce

We’re not going to beat around the bush, here: attorneys don’t come cheap. In fact—of those couples surveyed—lawyer fees single-handedly ate up nearly eighty percent of their average divorce cost.

Not all of this is paid up front, though; instead, payments are made gradually—as needed—over the lifespan of your divorce. When considering the cost of your attorney, there are three main areas to be aware of:

1. Initial Retainer

An initial retainer is a large payment that is typically required when you sign your representation agreement. In California, initial retainers generally run between $2,500-5,000.

Initial retainers are deposited into a bank account devoted exclusively to your case. Funds are then drawn out, as needed, to pay for any expenses that come up—including your attorney’s hourly rate.

2. Hourly Rate

Almost all divorce attorney’s charge an hourly rate for their services. These rates can range anywhere from $150 per hour, up to $500, with factors like attorney location, and experience level playing influencing how high or low the cost is.

The average hourly rate in California is $330 per hour.

Any time spent on your case—whether drafting paperwork, taking phone calls, answering emails, or filing motions—will be billed at this price.

3. Retainer Account

Another important part of paying for your divorce will be maintaining your retainer account.

As you may have surmised, $2,500-$5,000 won’t be enough to cover your entire divorce. That initial retainer is more like a down payment; funds designed to cover the costs of starting your divorce. However, you’ll almost certainly need to deposit more, before your case is over.

In addition to your attorney’s hourly rate, this money pays for all everything else that might come up (or, in other words, that other twenty percent not devoted to paying your attorney). This may include things like filing fees, court costs, expert witnesses, and mediation.

Everything in your retainer account—including that initial payment, and any subsequent deposits—technically belongs to you. This means that whatever your attorney doesn’t use goes back to you, once your divorce is finalized.

Ouch—I Can’t Afford This!

If all these numbers are making your head spin, you’re not alone. The price of a good divorce attorney have caused many spouses to reconsider whether or not they actually need representation. 

However, while self-representation is always an option, it’s rarely a good idea for most divorces. 

Divorce law is complex and highly nuanced. And without representation, you run the risk of making expensive—sometimes irreversible—mistakes. 

Instead of playing Russian roulette with your legal rights, talk to an experienced divorce attorney about your concerns. They can help you identify the most expensive areas of your dispute, and offer cost-effective solutions to help bring them down. 

Things that Increase the Cost of Divorce

Since eighty percent of divorce expenses go to attorney’s fees—and attorneys are paid at an hourly rate—this means that the biggest indicator of divorce cost will be how much time your divorce takes.

Mandatory waiting periods and court delays aside, here are some of the biggest offenders on your attorney’s time, how they drive up costs, and what you can do to reduce them, while also maintaining good representation.

Child Custody

You already knew having kids was expensive; unfortunately, that doesn’t change, just because you’re getting divorced.

Hashing out child custody and support can take months, and—in some cases—may require the testimony of expert witnesses (especially if domestic violence is involved).

While you certainly don’t want to rush these decisions, parents who are able to put aside their differences, and work together for the best interest of their children, will get through this phase more quickly.

Property and/or Debt

Dividing marital property and debt can be a herculean task—especially for couples who’ve collected lots of either.

California is a community property state, which means that anything you collected while married belongs to both of you, and must be divided, upon divorce.

Generally, the shorter the marriage, the easier this task is; however, things like business ownership, intellectual property, retirement accounts, and digital currency could take a lot of time to sort through. 

Having a prenuptial agreement in place can be one of the easiest ways to streamline these disputes.


Alimony, or spousal support, are regular payments made by one spouse to the other, in order to help a dependent spouse get back on their feet, post-divorce.

This money is gender-neutral, and is awarded based on need; however, because it’s not required in every divorce, the time it takes to fight for it can be another contributing factor to the cost of divorce.


One of the biggest things that drives up the cost of divorce, is how much a couple fights—and we don’t mean general arguments. An unwillingness to compromise will kill any chance you have at reducing cost.

Instead of fighting over every pen, spoon, and inch of ground, consider what things you’re willing to compromise on, and don’t let your pride get in the way of settling on things you don’t care about.

Going to Court

Not all divorce cases need—or even should be—resolved in court. In fact, not only does litigation take much longer, it also drives up the price tag on your breakup. That’s because appearing in court requires a lot more preparation… it requires discovery, requests, motions, subpoenas, expert witnesses, and evidence, all of which demand extra time from your attorney. 

And time, of course, means money.

Rather than throwing away cash on a day in court, try an alternative method of resolution instead. Options like uncontested divorce, mediation, and collaborative divorce all help clients resolve disputes faster and cheaper, while also giving them more control over the process.

Do You Need Help Balancing the Cost of Your California Divorce?

The cost of divorce can often seem daunting; however, it may not have to be as expensive as you’re thinking. The right attorney will be conscious of your needs, and can help develop a legal strategy to fit within whatever budget you set.

For more questions about the cost of divorce in California—and what that might look like in your situation—we want to hear from you. Call Provinziano & Associates at (310) 820-3500, or get in touch online, and let us schedule your free consultation, today.