The Real Reason That Divorce is so Expensive

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If you ask any lawyer why divorce is so expensive s/he will tell you that it’s because conflict costs money. The more you and your spouse fight, the more your divorce will cost.

But, saying that fighting is what drives up the cost of divorce is like saying that eating the wrong foods will make you fat. Both answers are true, but they don’t even begin to tell you the whole story.

Couple screaming at each other with dollar sign between them. Why is divorce so expensive?

The Main Drivers of Divorce Costs

It’s no secret that fighting in divorce is expensive. The bigger question is: Why? What is it about fighting that costs money?

The easy answer is that the more you fight, the more you have to pay your lawyers. Plus, the more you fight, the longer your divorce takes. The longer your divorce takes, the more you need to pay your lawyers. (See a trend yet?)

But it’s more than just lawyers that drive up the cost of your divorce. The more conflicted your divorce is, the more you need a therapist to help you deal with that conflict. The more financial games you and your spouse play with each other, the more you will likely pay in taxes, penalties, accounting fees, lost earnings and lost financial opportunities.

The other reason that fighting in your divorce costs so much money is because of the problems that fighting creates. Fighting pits you and your spouse against each other as enemies. That alone makes your divorce more difficult and expensive.

Fighting also drives up your divorce costs in 3 ways:

1. It increases the likelihood you, your spouse, or both of you, will refuse to make a reasonable agreement.
2. It increases the likelihood that you, your spouse, or both of you, will drag your feet about disclosing financial information (or will actively hide financial information.)
3. It increases the likelihood that you will end up resolving your divorce in court.

Upset, young divorcing couple standing with their backs to each otherThe First Reason That Divorce is So Expensive: Refusing to Be Reasonable

Being unreasonable in divorce creates a vicious cycle of craziness and cost.

The more unreasonable you are, the more you will fight. The more you fight, the more emotionally invested you become in fighting. The more emotionally invested you are in fighting, the less reasonable you become.

And so it goes on.

Now, instead of just fighting about how to divide your stuff, or take care of your kids, you and your spouse are fighting to be right. You are fighting to “win.”

Unfortunately, in divorce, there are no winners. So, the more that you fight to “win,” the more everyone loses.

The bottom line is that, the more you fight, the less you feel like compromising. Yet, if you don’t compromise, the only way you can get divorced is by fighting in court.

Not surprisingly, going to court is also one of the primary ways to make your divorce more expensive.

Stack of documentsThe Second Reason Divorce is So Expensive: Dragging Out Discovery

“Discovery” is the legal process by which you and your spouse “discover” information about each other in your divorce.

Depending upon where you live, discovery may include filling out detailed financial affidavits. You will likely have to produce tax returns, bank statements and mountains of other financial documents to each other. You may have to answer detailed financial questions, or appear for a deposition.

Going through the discovery process can be enormously expensive. Not only do you have to produce, organize and analyze a ton of financial information, but your lawyer has to do it too. When your lawyer is charging you $300 – $500 per hour, the cost of discovery can quickly mount into tens of thousands of dollars.

But, there’s more.

If either you or your spouse drags your feet in discovery, the process takes longer. It costs more.

Every time the lawyers have to go to court to compel one person to turn over financial information, it costs money. Every time the lawyers have to attend a status conference and tell the judge, “Nothing is going on,” the judge continues the case. That means they have to appear at yet another status conference. All of that costs money.

Cartoon of couple fighting in divorce courtThe Third Reason Divorce is So Expensive: Going to Court

Every time your lawyer goes to court, you pay him/her hundreds of dollars. Every time your lawyer has to prepare for a contested hearing, you pay him/her hundreds (or thousands) of dollars.  What’s more, every time the lawyers meet, talk, or write letters to each other, it costs you.

Clearly, using the court process to deal with your divorce is expensive. Thankfully, these days you have choices. You don’t have to litigate your divorce.

Mediation and Collaborative Divorce can save you money.

But, even in those divorce processes, if you or your spouse refuses to be reasonable, you’re going to drive up your costs. If you or your spouse takes a long time to produce financial information, you’re going to drive up your costs. What’s worse, if you or your spouse refuses to produce financial information, or if one of you actively hides money, mediation and Collaborative Divorce probably won’t work at all.

So, if you want to keep the cost of your divorce low, it helps to stay out of court, quickly produce your financial information, and be reasonable. Yet, even doing all of that won’t necessarily guarantee that your divorce won’t cost you a small fortune.

Sad young divorcing woman holding an umbrella over her head as water pours down.The Real Reason That Divorce is So Expensive

Knowing that fighting costs money may help you reign in your urge to fight the War of the Roses in your divorce. But knowledge alone is usually not enough to keep you (or your spouse) from turning your divorce into an expensive bloodbath.

You need to take your knowledge one step farther. You need to put that knowledge into action. In short, you need to actually not fight.

As anyone who has been through a divorce knows, that’s lot easier said than done.

No matter how reasonable you try to be, if your spouse is being a jerk, it’s tempting to be a jerk back. When your spouse is playing games in court, your natural inclination is to want to play games too. When you are devastated by your spouse’s behavior, and you desperately want to “win” or to get revenge, you drive the cost of your divorce higher than it needs to be.

The truth is that, more than anything else, what really makes divorce so expensive is your emotions. Anger, fear, and greed will spiral your divorce costs into the stratosphere. The more you can manage your emotions, the less expensive your divorce will be.

How Much Can You Control?

Of course, managing your own emotions is only half the equation.  If your spouse has turned into a screaming maniac, your divorce is still probably going to cost more than it should. The same thing is true if your spouse is determined to take you to the cleaners.  But,  even though you may not be able to control your spouse, you still can control yourself.

If you can keep yourself from playing “tit for tat” with your spouse in court, you will be better able to control the cost of your divorce. The more you can keep yourself from getting sucked into the emotional vortex of anger, the less likely you will be to fight endless, expensive court battles. The more you manage your reactions to your spouse’s craziness, the more likely you will be able to also manage the cost of your divorce.

While none of this is easy, it’s truly the best (and maybe the only) thing you can do. For better or worse, the real reason that divorce is so expensive always comes back to you, and the person you married.

Head shot of Karen Covy in an Orange jacket smiling at the camera with her hand on her chin.

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Author, and Speaker. She coaches high net worth professionals and successful business owners to make hard decisions about their marriage with confidence, and to navigate divorce with dignity.  She speaks and writes about decision-making, divorce, and living life on your terms. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


divorce advice, divorce blog, divorce tips

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  • My ex knew that the court would order me to pay her attorney and all expenses, so she drove up costs as high as she could knowing it would only hurt me. In Ohio, the higher earning spouse pays for everything. My costs were 70k and hers were zero.

  • Excellent article. From strictly a financial perspective, divorce makes no sense. From an emotional perspective, it may make perfect sense. But as you indicated, the more emotional the divorce, typically the more expensive. Your article helps put my work in a better light. Repair the marriage (heal the emotional bond) and avert the expense of divorce altogether.

  • It is such a sad time, especially when you are the one that doesn’t want the divorce. Then, you have all the financial hardships that go with it

  • It’s just ridiculous that divorce has to be so expensive and long winded when it’s so easy and cheap to get marry at a courthouse. High costs basically is forcing people to just stay married but miserable. No wonder people would rather cohabit & have kids without marrying first. Guess misery loves company so everyone has to suffer!

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