Divorce is complex, both emotionally and financially. When the relationship is broken, it may be hard to come to terms to with your soon-to-be ex-spouse on personal matters, let alone the financial terms of separation. Our clients often ask how much their divorce in Colorado will cost. In this post, we have outlined the varying degree of expenses you should consider, based on your circumstances.
The Average Divorce Attorney Fees in Colorado
Getting a divorce in Colorado costs $14,500 on average, according to a study conducted by Martindale-Nolo Research. High-net-worth couples, however, tend to have more expensive processes and end up paying $37,000 on average.
The average divorce attorney fee rounds up to $11,400, though top divorce lawyers in Colorado may charge above that depending on the complexity of your case. Court fees aren't that steep, however, and constitute $230 for filling a divorce petition. Of course, this takes only the necessary filing fees into consideration. If a divorcing couple makes multiple court appearances, or they make use of different court services, there may be additional fees. These include orders for child support and custody, paternity tests, even a petition to add a third party to the proceedings.
It is important to note that under certain circumstances one party can request attorney fee payment against another. The court will consider the financial resources of both spouses and rule out how the fees should be settled if the divorce goes to trial. For instance, attorney fees can be enforced directly on one spouse if they have a significantly higher income. Or, if either of the parties behaved in a substantially “frivolous, groundless, or vexatious” manner at some point during the divorce proceedings, the court may "reward" them with the fees. The purpose of this reward is to motivate people not to use the courts to ‘punish' one another, or as a means to seek revenge.
Factors Impacting Divorce Costs in Colorado
Colorado is a “no fault” state. You will not have to bear additional costs associated with proving adultery or any other legal ground for obtaining a divorce. A couple wishing to divorce must state that the marriage is irretrievably broken. "No fault" also means that one spouse may obtain a divorce whether or not the other party agrees to it or not. There is no need to obtain consent from a spouse or the courts to get a divorce.
The level of cooperation between you and your spouse will have the most effect on the final costs, along with your circumstances. Divorce and separation can be emotionally wrought. One or both people may feel angry, betrayed, or blindsided. Still, everyone involved can benefit financially if at least some cooperation can be managed.
There are two types of divorce recognized in Colorado:
- A contested divorce doesn't mean that the divorce itself is being challenged. It means that the couple cannot agree over all or some of the matters that need to be settled before the divorce can be finalized (property/asset division, alimony, child support/visitation).
- In an uncontested divorce, the couple agrees on these matters. There are fewer court appearances, and the process is more straightforward for everyone involved. That means lower attorney's costs, and fewer fees to pay the courts.
Contested divorces are often significantly more expensive. Each time attorneys must appear in court, draft documents, file papers, etc. that is billable time. Even if a lawyer is charging a flat rate, they are going to charge more if they are dealing with a contested divorce. If every asset becomes a point of contention, and the couple cannot agree on anything, that’s going to add up. Likewise, if the couple can compromise on some things, they can save some money.
The fastest and cheapest way to obtain a divorce in Colorado is to file a joint petition with your spouse. This document should detail your agreement on the following matters:
- Shared property division.
- Alimony (Spousal Support).
- Child support.
- Child custody.
- Visitation rights and time for the non-custodial parent.
If your divorce is uncontested and you can agree on all of the above, it can be finalized in 3 months with the least attorney fees involved. Even if you can only agree on a few of these matters, that’s less money to spend as lawyers and courts hash things out.
One of the most challenging things about a contested divorce is the unpredictability of the costs. Ultimately, those will depend on several factors listed below.
Understandably, reaching a settlement with your spouse isn’t always that simple, especially if they are being unreasonable about the children. Such divorces tend to be 50% more expensive than the average figure, especially if the case goes to trial. According to the above Martindale-Nolo Research study:
- The average cost of a settled divorce with minor children is $18,300.
- The average cost of going to trial when children are involved rises to $25,400.
Some Colorado divorce attorneys can command higher hourly fees for trial representations. You should also factor in additional costs such as miscellaneous legal court fees. As a middle ground, you can opt for mediation instead – a less expensive option for coming to terms with your spouse in regards to custody.
Private mediators tend to charge between $100 and $1,000 per hour. In the Denver area, the average hourly rate for a mediator is between $250-$360 per hour – that’s somewhat higher than the national average. You can also request a public mediator from State Office of Dispute resolution. You are still expected to pay a fee for the services, but depending on your circumstances the fee can be waived or reduced.
If matters of residence, custody, and visitation cannot be settled between the parties, or with mediation, the case must go to court leading to more costs.
In some cases, even when the court has settled issues around minor children, and issued orders, one or both parents still may not cooperate with these orders or each other. For example, they may withhold child support, deny visitation, or return children for custody changes. One parent may also undermine the other parent’s rights to participate in their child's life or make parental decisions. When this happens, the couple may find themselves back in court, which can lead to additional legal fees paid directly to the courts, and to lawyers. There may even be fines involved for failing to abide by court orders.
For instance, failure to pay child support can lead to the court imposing wage garnishment, which can constitute up to 65% of the person’s net wages. Additionally, delinquent child support rulings accrue a 12% yearly interest, compounding monthly.
For the most complex custody cases, the court may appoint a Child and Family Investigator or Parental Responsibilities Evaluator to look into your family matters. These trained professionals analyze your family situation and advise the court on further decision making in terms of visitation, living arrangements, and custody. A Parental Responsibilities Evaluator can also perform a mental health assessment of both parents. Child and Family Investigator fees cap off at $2,000 per case. Parental evaluators in Colorado tend to charge between $1,000 to $10,000 for their services.
If you are considering the cost of a divorce, don't assume that you will pay less money just because your child is over 18. The age of majority in Colorado is 19, and parents are generally expected to provide support until children graduate from high school.
One parent may also be obligated to keep the child covered on their health insurance, or make expected contributions to the child's post-secondary education if that is an agreement made between both parties.
Financial disagreements with your soon-to-be ex also ramp up the divorce costs. Alimony disputes often require involving additional experts such as financial or vocational analysts to provide evidence in your favor. The average price of a vocational evaluation ranges between $4,000-$5,000. Expect to pay an extra $1,000-$1,500 if you want the evaluator to appear and testify in court.
Demanding high support payments often escalates the conflict between you and your spouse which, in turn, can result in extended divorce proceedings (on purpose or not). The average attorney fee in such cases rises to $16,600 and can climb higher if the proceedings drag on.
Someone wishing to avoid paying alimony should balance the costs of paying a lawyer to fight for them with the estimated amount of money they might spend on alimony itself. This is especially true if a lawyer advises them that they are likely to lose their bid.
Of course, the same can be said for someone pursuing spousal support. If they aren’t likely to receive a meaningful reward, it may not be worth pursuing.
Property Division Disputes
High-net-worth couples should prepare for more protracted and more expensive proceedings, especially if they go to trial. The average cost of divorces with property disputes rounds up to $25,400 on average.
Two factors can explain this increase:
- The need for additional financial analysis conducted by attorneys and 3rd party experts, such as appraisers.
- The other party's uncooperative behavior or unwillingness to disclose all their assets and liabilities.
Other Things to Expect in High Net Worth Divorce Cases
Several factors can make a high net worth divorce more complex, thus more costly. The first thing to consider is the existence of any pre or post-nuptial agreements. These are almost always a good thing to have in a high-net-worth marriage. However, if they are challenged in the divorce proceedings, things can get more expensive.
Many wealthy couples accumulate real estate assets outside of their family home. They may own investment properties, business real estate, or vacation property. Depending on the terms of the divorce, this property will need to be sold, divided between the parties, or otherwise settled. There’s also the matter of who will have use of and access to these properties, and be responsible for maintenance and upkeep.
Next is business ownership. Couples often start businesses together. Even when the company is owned and controlled by just one spouse, the other may have rights to it through the marriage. Lawyers will need to be paid to sort these situations out and provide adequate advice.
Unfortunately, high-net-worth divorces can bring out the worst in people for a variety of reasons. Some may become worried that their ex-spouse is attempting to ‘stick it to them,' and obtain an unfair share of assets. In addition to this, couples with significant money to spare, don’t have a financial incentive to settle things amicably. They may be tempted to use their attorneys to fight over everything. Not only can this draw out the divorce, but it also makes it exceptionally more expensive.
On the other side of the equation are those who prefer to use their money to settle things quickly, even to their detriment. They lean towards giving the other party ‘anything they want,' and may agree to things that they regret later on to avoid the emotional turmoil.
There's also the matter of hiring the wrong attorney. Not all family law attorneys have experience in the complexities of high-net-worth divorces. Hiring a divorce attorney who doesn't have the right expertise can lead to more costs down the road, as it may be necessary to hire yet another divorce attorney in an attempt to fix things. Of course, it should be made clear that not every settled matter can be changed merely because one of the parties experiences regret after the divorce.
Finally, there are tax considerations. As part of settling a divorce, couples may sell or transfer assets, which can result in taxable income. Couples may find themselves owing capital gains taxes. In any case, the result is that an already complex tax situation becomes even more complicated.
Additional Costs and Fees To Account For
The truth is, attorneys fees are only one thing to consider when attempting to predict the price of a divorce in the state of Colorado. There are other costs that one or both parties will have to absorb. These include:
- Transportation Costs
- Court Fees
- Costs For Parenting Classes and Mandated Counseling
- Supervised Visitation Costs
- Filing Fees
- Missed Wages
- Alimony and Child Support During The Court Proceedings
- Therapy For Divorcing Parents and Affected Children
- Changing Insurance Costs
- Moving Expenses
There may also be some other temporary expenses to consider while the divorce is in progress. For one thing, one party may find themselves renting an apartment while also paying the mortgage on the family home. A divorcing couple might have to pay an accountant or financial advisor to help them get documents prepared to show the courts.
In some cases, people find themselves paying more for a divorce for one simple reason; they fail to hire a qualified attorney. Sometimes, they hire an attorney, but then fail to follow that lawyer's advice. They may find it hard to accept that outcomes are not always as they would like them. Some choose to follow the advice of friends or family members. In many of these cases, parties end up spending more down the road than they would have by just having—and listening to—good representation.
Preparing for divorce is never easy, especially when factoring the average hourly rate of a divorce attorney. However, an experienced professional saves you money in the long run by helping you to settle faster and on more favorable terms. Contact us today to learn more about your options.