You know it’s time to get divorced, but how much should you be budgeting for the process?

How much your Georgia divorce costs will depend on a number of factors. The biggest is the amount of help you and your spouse need to finalize your divorce.

Let’s talk about what the various elements are and how much control you have over the ultimate cost of your divorce.

See: How to Ask for a Divorce (Without Ending Up in Court)

Cost of a divorce attorney in Georgia

The large portion of people who get divorced in the United States hire an attorney to help them. The same is true in Georgia. Divorce can be a complicated process. Making sure the result is fair to both you and your spouse isn’t something that can be easily DIYed.

The cost of an attorney can vary widely depending on their skill, their fee structure, and the amount of work they do in the case. Location matters too. Lawyers in the Atlanta metropolitan area charge more than lawyers in rural areas.

A recent study showed that the cost of Georgia divorces ranges from an average of around $3700 to upwards of $21,000. The less expensive cases are ones where a couple is able to settle most of the issues themselves. The more expensive cases are ones where a couple needs to go to trial to finalize their divorce.

We’ll talk more later about how going to trial or not impacts the cost of your divorce.

Hourly versus flat-fee

How the lawyer charges for their time can make a big difference in the total cost of your divorce.

Traditionally, divorce lawyers charged hourly and required an upfront retainer to begin work. Many family law attorneys still use this payment structure, especially if they anticipate going to trial.

When you’re paying an hourly rate — say, $350 per hour — you have no understanding of the total cost of your case. Most lawyers are reluctant to give you an estimate. They will quote you a retainer—but beware—this is NOT an estimate of your total fees. If they quote you a retainer of $5,000, that’s about 14 hours of their time (plus all the office expenses they nickle and dime you for). Fourteen hours goes surprisingly fast. When your retainer runs out, they’ll ask you for more money.

So what happens if the custody agreement becomes a major sticking point? What if one of you wants to sell the marital home and the other refuses? You and your spouse just can’t agree, and you end up going to trial. The $5,000 bill you anticipated balloons to $10,000 or even $15,000.

Of course, that doesn’t happen in every case. But the financial uncertainty can be daunting, especially when you’re already in the middle of so much change.

Some divorce lawyers have modernized their fee structures by offering flat fee divorces. They estimate the number of hours the representation will require, and they bear the risk of it taking longer. Many of these divorce attorneys specialize in uncontested or amicable divorces, where the goal is to keep you and your spouse out of court.

If your attorney charges a flat fee, you’ll sign a contract upfront with the scope of the representation and the cost. No uncertainty.

See: How to Choose an Uncontested Divorce Lawyer

Cost to file for divorce in Georgia

The actual cost to file documents with the court is relatively low. Filing a complaint with the Superior Court generally costs between $200 and $220. The exact amount depends on your county.

If you need to pay a process server or the sheriff’s office to serve the paperwork on your spouse, that usually costs around $50.

Cost of contested divorce vs uncontested divorce

In general, uncontested divorces are significantly less expensive than contested divorces.

In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse agree on all the terms of your divorce before you file with the court. You should hire an attorney to help you negotiate and draft a settlement agreement. You’ll pay much less than you would if they were representing you in litigation.

Some couples in both contested and uncontested divorces pay for a private mediator. Mediators can charge hourly rates similar to attorneys. It’s important to remember that the purpose of mediation is to avoid litigation and the high costs associated with taking your divorce to trial.

Most couples could reasonably expect an uncontested divorce to cost less than $5,000.

Compare that to a contested divorce that goes to trial. Any trial is an expensive endeavor, and divorce litigation is no different. You and your spouse will pay two lawyers for any negotiations that happened before trial as well as any meetings you had with them individually. Then you’ll pay for trial preparation and the lawyers’ time at the trial (plus their time driving to court in Atlanta traffic). You’ll pay for any experts or investigators your lawyer uses to make your case.

In that instance, your Georgia divorce might cost upwards of $15,000 or $20,000.

See: 7 Divorce Mediation Tips for Couples Ready to Move On

How to reduce divorce costs in Georgia

The most effective way to reduce the cost of your divorce is to use less of a divorce attorney’s time.

That doesn’t mean not to use an attorney at all. While you may save money upfront, you’re taking a huge gamble with your future. The forms involved in filing for divorce are extensive, and a final divorce decree is a legally binding document.

Don’t skip out on an attorney altogether. Instead, look for a divorce attorney who focuses on moving through the divorce process quickly and effectively. And make a commitment yourself — to staying civil and focusing on the future rather than on “winning” your divorce.

When you’re tempted to spend another three hours (or three weeks) hashing out a detail, ask yourself how much it matters. Some things are worth spending the time on. Others might get in the way of saving money and moving forward.

We specialize in helping couples complete uncontested divorces because we’ve seen how damaging messy divorces can be. We know there’s a better way. Contact us to see how we can help you.