The average cost of divorce in California is approximately $17,500 but varies widely based on several factors: the type of divorce, filing fees, copying and notary costs, how the papers are served and whether attorneys or specialists are used. For couples who agree on everything, have no children and don't hire attorneys, the average cost is $355 to $400. For couples who disagree, have children together or hire attorneys, the average cost can be from $355 to thousands of dollars.
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Types of Divorce
In California, there are two main types of divorce or dissolution: Summary and Regular. Summary Dissolution is for partners or couples with no children, no real estate, little debt or property and agreement on everything. This type of divorce has no trial or hearing. Regular Dissolution is for married couples who don't agree on everything. This type of divorce has a hearing, unless you both request otherwise. Divorce cases can also be uncontested or contested. If you start the divorce case and your wife doesn't respond, it's uncontested. If she does respond, it's contested. Uncontested divorce cases are quicker and cost less.
To start a divorce, you have to fill out forms and take them to the Superior Court in your county, where the clerk "files" or enters them into the system. According to the California Judicial website's Civil Fees chart, it costs $435 to file a dissolution anywhere in the state. Summary dissolutions have no other fees after filing, while regular dissolutions can require another $435 if your spouse files a response, called an answer. However, if you can't afford the fees, there are Fee Waivers to give you more time to pay or not pay at all, based on your income.
Copying and Notaries
All of the instructions and forms you need to file for divorce are on the California Judicial website, where you can type in your information and print them out. If you don't have access to a printer, you can pick up the forms from the Superior Court Clerk in your county. After you complete the forms, the instructions tell you how many copies to make and who should get them. If you have a printer, you can do it yourself. If you don't have a printer, you can make copies at the nearest library or office store. Some documents will need to be signed in front of a notary for $5 to $20, but most banks will notarize customer documents for free.
After your forms are filed with the court, you need to give copies to the other person, which is called "service." You can't serve the copies yourself, but you can have a friend or relative do it for you by mail or in person. Service can also be done by a process server or the nearest Sheriff's Office. Process server fees range from $35 to $100, depending on how far they have to go to complete service. The Sheriff's Office of Napa County lists its fee as $35 on its website, which is a standard fee in the state.
Attorneys and Specialists
If you hire an attorney, total costs increases upwards of $17,500, higher than the national average of $12,800. Some attorneys charge a set fee, but most of them charge by the hour. According to Lawyers.com, the average hourly rate for attorneys in California is $330. If you choose not to hire an attorney, the California Judicial website has a booklet with detailed information about handling your own divorce. When child custody is an issue, the judge can order specialists such as child psychologists and mental health professionals to evaluate children and parents. The cost for these specialists can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on how long they're needed.