You’ve probably heard people complain about how expensive divorce can be. But if you’re facing the end of your own marriage, those complaints suddenly have more relevance—and you probably want more details. Just how expensive is divorce in Virginia? What circumstances can make it cost more or less? We conducted a survey of readers who were recently divorced to ask about their experiences. We also conducted a study of fees and billing practices reported by Virginia family law attorneys. After comparing and analyzing the results, here’s what we learned about the cost of divorce in Virginia.
The Cost of Divorce Lawyers in Virginia
As our survey showed, about two-thirds of people getting divorced hire a lawyer to handle their case. When that’s true, their biggest divorce expense is the attorney’s bill. The total amount of your bill will depend on your attorney’s hourly rate and the number of hours needed for your case.
How Much Do Virginia Divorce Lawyers Charge per Hour?
The Virginia lawyers in our study reported their minimum and maximum hourly rates. Across the state, the average minimum was $280 per hour, while the average maximum was $330 an hour. Those rates are higher than national average rates for family lawyers and considerably higher than the typical rates in many Midwestern states.
Within the range of the averages across Virginia, several factors affect how much any individual attorney will charge per hour, especially:
- Location. Attorneys in big, expensive cities usually charge higher rates than those in smaller towns. You may find that lawyers charge less than the statewide average when they’re based outside of Virginia’s major metropolitan areas (especially the Arlington-Alexandria area).
- Expertise and experience in family law. Generally, attorneys with extensive, specialized experience in family law will charge higher hourly rates than less-experienced lawyers—though their total bills aren’t necessarily higher, because they may be able to resolve issues more efficiently.
What’s the Typical Total Cost for a Virginia Divorce Lawyer?
The vast majority of people with legal representation in their divorce hire “full-scope” attorneys to handle everything in their cases, from start to finish. So when we looked at typical total divorce costs, we focused on the expense of full-scope representation. Based on the combined data from our reader survey and attorney study, our analysis showed that the total cost of a full-scope attorney in a typical Virginia divorce ranges from about $12,000 (based on minimum hourly rates) to $14,000 (based on maximum rates). But you could end up paying much less—or more—depending on the circumstances in your case, especially the nature and number of the disputes you have with your spouse.
How Disputes and Trial Raise the Cost of Divorce in Virginia
Many divorcing couples fight over one or more important issues, especially:
- child custody and support
- alimony (known as spousal support and maintenance in Virginia), and
- the division of your property and debts.
These disputes are the most significant contributors to higher divorce costs. To resolve them, your lawyer will have to spend time to collect financial documents and other information (in the process known as discovery). If your spouse balks at providing all of the requested information—or if one of you requests a temporary support order—your lawyer may also have to prepare motions and represent you in hearings. It will also take time to negotiate a settlement agreement—and if that doesn’t work, even more time to prepare for and represent you in a divorce trial.
In order to examine the impact of these disputes on divorce costs in Virginia, we looked at the average attorneys’ fees under the most typical scenarios, based on our analysis of the combined data from the survey and attorney study. The results showed that when there are no contested issues, the average total cost of a Virginia divorce is only $4,000-$5,000 (based on minimum and maximum hourly fees). The average costs rise to $6,000-$7,500 when cases involve one dispute, but no trial, and $10,500-$12,500 when two or more disputes are resolved through a settlement. When couples have to go to court to resolve their contested issues, average costs were even higher: $14,500-$17,000 for trial on one issue and $22,000-$23,500 for trial on two or more issues.
The Impact of a “Fault” Divorce on Costs
In Virginia, you can choose to file a “fault” divorce or a “no-fault” divorce if you and your spouse have lived apart from one another without interruption for a year (or for six months if you signed a separation agreement and don’t have any minor children from the marriage). Reasons (or “grounds”) for a fault divorce in Virginia include a spouse’s:
- prison sentence (of at least a year) for a felony conviction
- willful desertion or abandonment, and
- cruelty that caused reasonable fear of physical harm.
Virginia law allows courts to consider fault divorce grounds, along with other relevant factors, when they’re awarding spousal support or dividing marital property. But fault divorces usually are more expensive, because it will take time for your attorney to come up with strong evidence that supports or counters the claims. (It may also involve hiring outside experts like private investigators.) So if you’re considering filing for a fault divorce, you should speak first with an experienced family lawyer who can help you decide whether it's likely to make enough of a difference in the outcome of your case to be worth the added expense.
What Other Expenses Contribute to the Cost of Divorce?
Besides attorneys’ fees, there are other expenses involved in divorce, such as filing fees, mediation costs, and the fees charges by experts like child custody evaluators and financial analysts. Our survey showed that the national average for these non-attorney costs is $1,600. Here again, your costs will usually be lower than that if you have few or no contested issues in your divorce, and they may be higher if you have several disputes.
More Information and Resources on Virginia Divorce
Follow the links below for more information and resources on divorce in Virginia: