Landing in a courtroom to resolve your divorce can be outrageously expensive. I once knew a woman who was getting $35,000 a year in child support and wanted an increase of $7,000 a year. It cost her $39,000 in fees by the time of the trial. She was awarded only a $4,000-a-year increase.

So, when you do the math …

The expense for a typical celebrity or wealthy person divorce through trial generally runs each party between $500,000 and $1 million; those with more moderate incomes might spend up to $75,000 in fees and costs. The price tag for a two-day trial alone might run $25,000.

Heed this: These costs don’t include the time a person incurs in lost income (because much time is needed to gather, organize and prepare paperwork for his or her attorney).

That’s just the money side.

The emotional “fees” are often incalculable. Come trial time, a person might have been left emotionally penniless.

Here is how some of those costs break down:

Legal Team

Attorneys, accountants, psychologists and others need to be on hand to back up a person’s case. There are countless hearings, depositions, mandatory settlement conferences and usually mediation sessions. Then there is the cost of the trial itself; each party could dole out $7,500 (small city) to $15,000 (big city) a day. Where is all this money going?

A big-city certified family law specialist bills $400 to $650 an hour. “Name” attorneys fetch $650 to $1,000 and up. It might take a year or 18 months to finally go to trial. There will be many meetings. Each lasts more than an hour.

Then, discovery: An attorney can take an eight-hour deposition and spend 15 to 20 hours preparing for it. Add on costs for the court reporter, etc. The cost for one deposition in a simple case might run $5,000 while a complex divorce could exceed $25,000. Often, there is the need for more than one deposition.

Courts rarely order one party to pay 100 percent of all attorney fees in a trial, but you could get stuck paying some or all of your ex’s fees.


Attorneys use experts to synthesize information so a court can assimilate the case in a quick and efficient manner. They include forensic accountants, psychologists and vocational specialists.

Forensic accountants testify about division of property and available cash flow to determine issues such as child or spousal support. Small-city experts: $275 to $450 an hour; big-city experts: in excess of $700 an hour. Their fees to value a small business, such as a legal practice or a restaurant, can easily exceed $10,000.

Costs in determining available cash flow of a self-employed individual: $25,000. Their testimony: 5,000 to $15,000 a day.

Mental Health Team

A typical psychologist/psychiatrist/counselor will charge $150 to $300 an hour. They meet with children and parents to make recommendations to the court regarding an appropriate parenting plan. Costs: $4,000 to $6,000 a party.

In more complicated cases (where there are serious mental health or substance abuse issues), parties could spend $15,000 to $25,000.

Court Costs

Lawyers and experts aside, there are filing fees, court reporters, process servers and potential sanctions. They could run from $5,000 to $50,000. Court costs can accumulate quickly, especially if there are several hearings and/or trial days.

Parties’ Time

In terms of countless hours to assemble documents and speak with experts, mental health professionals, educators and accountants, people should first ask: What is my time worth? Who is going to reimburse me for it? Figure eight to 25 hours a week, at least. Add that dollar amount to the other totals.

Emotional Price Tag

It is hard to imagine mending fences after a legal war. But, there will always be lifelong ties; the need to be in each other’s company for weddings, high school and college graduations; and the births of grandchildren and other special events. The emotional tab is often a debt that might never be reconciled.

Cheaper Options

Some couples are so polarized on issues that they can only be resolved through a trial. A faster and more economical way to resolve disputes can be done through mediation, collaborative law or even a private judge

In Los Angeles County, more than 98 percent of all cases are resolved prior to a formal trial. Those within that 2 percent have to evaluate what the total tab will be, both financially and emotionally. It would be best to prepare an itemized “profit and loss statement” to determine whether the costs are really worth it.

I always tell my clients to run a spreadsheet because the bottom line should answer that question.

Steve Mindel is a certified family law specialist with the Feinberg Mindel Brandt & Klein law firm in West Los Angeles.

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