Cost of a Divorce in George
Much of the cost of the divorce is dependent on where you file, how you file, if you hire an attorney, and whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. Breaking down the costs of these options should give you a better idea of the cost of a divorce in Georgia.
Poverty AffidavitsEstimated Cost: $0
If you meet the financial requirements, you can file an Affidavit of Indigence or Poverty Affidavit which asks the court to allow you to file your divorce with out paying the mandatory filing fee, service fee, fee for the mandatory divorcing parents seminar or any other court costs. These requests are not automatically granted by the judge and will have to show proof of your income and your bills.
In most jurisdictions the judge will only grant your request if you are not represented by an attorney or are represented by a free legal aid lawyer. This waiver by the court is only regarding the court costs and does not free you from the other mandatory obligations regarding filing all the required legal paper work properly. Furthermore, you will still have to represent your self in all court appearances unless you live in a county that provides access to a legal aid attorney or a self-help program that that provides someone to help you complete the paper work if you are indigent.
Court fees and divorce packetsEstimated Cost: $210 - $325
As of May 2010, the average filing fee for a divorce in most Georgia Superior Courts is approximately $210.00. The cost to have your spouse served by the sheriff's department with the divorce papers is $50.00. If you live in a county that provides "divorce packets", the clerk of court can sell you a packet and the average cost is usually $15.00. If you have minor children the mandatory seminar regarding the impact of divorce on children costs $50.00 in most areas. The clerk's office should be able to provide you with a list of possible court fees for contested cases. All the clerk's office can do is provide you with the package of blank forms since they are strictly forbidden by law to provide you with any legal advice regarding their use. The forms also come with a waiver that state that even though they are provided by the clerk there is no guarantee they are the correct forms or that the judge will approve them even if they are completed according to the instructions.
Document preparation serviceEstimated Costs: $300 or less + court fees
If the county where you are filing your divorce does not sell "divorce packets" and you do not want to use a divorce packet available online at the web site of another Georgia Superior Court as a guide to type your own papers then you can purchase divorce forms from an online legal document provider or purchase a do-it-your-self kit or book from a local retailer.
Hiring a national company to prepare your divorce papers is very risky since the likelihood that they are correct for your particular county court is very low. Prices for these form documents run from $89.00 up to $299. No legal advice is provided with these services and, if you are lucky, you are getting type written version of what you could have gotten for free from the clerk. You are totally on your own to make sure the forms are correct, they are completed correctly and most importantly that what you are asking the judge to approve is within the guidelines of the laws of Georgia.
Uncontested Divorce lawyerEstimated Costs: $300 - 850 + court fees
If you can find a law firm in your area that only handles uncontested divorces then that is usually the best way to go for a fast and inexpensive divorce. The difference between this option and the ones before it is that for the first time you are purchasing much more than a fill in the blank forms. What you are paying for now is not the paper work but the knowledge, advice, and support that you can only get from an attorney.
When hiring a lawyer you want to look for some one familiar with the judges in the county you will be filing in. Also, make sure the lawyer you are hiring will be filing the paper work for you, that they will prepare and present the final decree to the judge for signing and that they will appear in court with you if your case requires a formal final hearing. How much you end up paying an uncontested lawyer depends on whether or not you and your spouse have minor children.
General Practice lawyerEstimated Costs: $800 - 1,500 + court fees
In order to be competitive in today's market of online documents and flat fee attorneys, many traditional family law firms and general practitioners are now, often reluctantly, offering flat fee rates on uncontested divorces. This can be a good choice for people who do not have access to a local lawyer that only handles uncontested divorces.
The only draw back to hiring a traditional firm is that you want to make sure your case does not take a back seat to the higher paying cases which could result in delays during all stages of the process. You might also want to consider hiring a traditional firm on the basis that if your divorce becomes contested then they can no longer represent you in the divorce. Putting in this provision in the legal contract should help protect you from law firms that do not really "believe in" uncontested divorces and motivate them to keep things uncontested since there is no financial gain for them if problems that arise cannot be worked out amicably.
Divorce lawyerEstimated Costs: $2,500.00 + court fees
If you and your spouse are not 100% in agreement on all the terms of the divorce or you do not feel comfortable having any interaction with them then your only source of legal remedy might be hiring a traditional lawyer. If the remaining matters fall in the category of just working out the details and negotiating toward a more middle ground position then you can probably find a local lawyer that will take on your case based on a slightly higher flat fee.
Often in cases in this range, the retained lawyer will suggest mediation to resolve the issues or in smaller jurisdictions they might suggest a hearing limited only to the remaining issues. If you find your self in this situation not only will your legal cost go up but expect your case to on average take three to six months to be resolved.
Initial retainer for an attorneyEstimated Costs: $2,500
Initial retainer fee for contested case will probably run around $2,500 in advance and this will probably be the minimum pay the law firm is guaranteed. The hourly rate will run from $75.00 - $250.00 depending on if the work is done by a paralegal, staff attorney, or one of the partners. You will still be required to pay all the court costs and you may also be required to pay your lawyer's costs including charges for copies, long distance calls and even mileage.
This fee structure is the one you can expect to pay in the majority of cases where each spouse is represented by an attorney. How much more you end up paying the lawyer past the retainer is up to how willing you are to reach an agreement with your spouse and how well you focus your attorney on your desired goals for the process so that you and your attorney is working with you and within your budget and timeline.
Flat fee rate for contested divorceEstimated Costs: $5,000
There are some law firms that will quote you a flat fee rate for contested case. The only extra costs in a flat rate case should just be court fees. If you can get the lawyer of your choice to agree to a flat rate that is always the best way to go since otherwise there will always be a conflict of interest between you and your lawyer because the more they can drag your case out in temporary hearings, motions, mediation, discover, and so forth the more money they make even if those legal maneuvers are bringing you no closer to a divorce or a resolution of the issues.
Initial retainer for high-profile lawyerEstimated Costs: $5,000
If you retain a high profile lawyer or law firm or you have a high conflict relationship with your spouse then expect to pay a hefty retainer fee. The average cost of a contested case is between $15,000.00 - 43,000.00. Also you do not have a lot of bargaining power either since the attorneys handling the case know exactly how much you have to pay them since all your finances are disclosed in the divorce proceedings.
In heated custody or alimony cases things can get so expensive that your attorney might even ask that their fees be secured by giving them a lien against a non-marital asset or voluntarily agree to let them garnish your wages.
Keep in mind when in this deep financially that there is no guarantee that if you pay out all this money that you will get the result that you want so you might want to get an unbiased second opinion as to the likelihood of your position prevailing with your assigned judge before you sign your whole financial life away.