Big question: One that you need to think about, and plan for. How much it will cost depends upon the track that you take, the lawyer you hire and, unfortunately, something completely out of your control, your spouse.
The least costly way is to negotiate the terms and conditions your divorce with your spouse and then use one of the pre-packaged do-your-own divorce kits to do the filing and then each have a review attorney. This can only happen if both of you are on the same page regarding getting a divorce and your issues are fairly straightforward, i.e. no children and alimony. If this is a go for you and your spouse, your costs could be less than $3,000 even if you each have a review attorney take a look at your final agreement.
The next least costly route is mediation. Finding a good mediator is essential as they will be able to guide you through the issues, have the experience to ask the right questions so that you carefully structure a solid agreement. To the extent that you can get some issues off the table prior to going to the mediator there may be further savings. Mediation, including drafting of the documents typically costs less than $10,000. Mediation requires that both parties want the divorce and both want to settle amicably.
A collaborative law divorce is more expensive than mediation but is less than a full blown court battle. Collaborative law mediation typically see your lawyers (yours and your spouse’s) to be in attendance at all mediation sessions, in addition to the mediator and usually incorporates other professionals such as a divorce coach (a therapist), not to be confused with a Divorce Consultant, to facilitate communication and possibly a Divorce Consultant to assist with the financial issues raised in mediation. This all adds up to a lot of dollars but it is a very effective way to negotiate a complex divorce or where one party is unable to speak for themselves in the negotiations. It is really difficult to put a number on how much it will cost as it really depends on the issues to resolve (do you have a marital business which must be valued and a buyout negotiated or a special needs child?). Likely ranges are $40-70,000 for all costs.
Then the category where most folks fall into is a mixed bag; some legal work, a trip or two to court to establish support or deal with parenting. Then mediation to try to resolve the issues when folks finally get sick of fighting or when the money for legal fees finally runs out.
This is the real crime in divorce. Folks are willing to fight until all the money is gone. They take a position, tell their lawyers to fight for that position and only realize that what they want is unattainable when they have spent a lot on lawyers and there is nothing left.
The reality is that high conflict divorces happen because high conflict people are involved, it is rarely the issues. One of my client’s spouses was hell bent to take their little boy away from him. She fought a nasty battle (trumped up assault charges, DCP involvement, and a refusal to negotiate) that resulted in legal fees of over $100,000 without negotiating a single issue. This is not typical but it does happen all too often.
Goes back to the basic issue that you do not have control over what your spouse will do, you can only control your reaction. Very difficult to do in the heat of the battle, particularly if children are involved, but it is essential. Sometimes it is better to agree to a position that is not optimal but add the caveat that you will re-address this issue in 6 months or a year. It will take the sting out of the process, gets things settled, cost less and, most importantly, puts you in control.
As you prepare for your divorce consider your adversary, think about what they are likely to do and plan a strategy to put out the flames rather than adding fuel to the fire. As always, I am an email away if you need some help sorting out your issues and picking your battles.