How much does a divorce cost in Utah? That is one of the most common questions we get. Unless you succeed at obtaining an order waiving court costs, everyone who files a divorce in Utah pays a filing fee of $325 plus a “vital statistics” fee of $8, for a grand total of $333 or $398 for divorcing parties with minor children when counting the $65 fee for the state-mandated Divorce Education and Divorce Orientation courses. That’s it! Those are your court costs for filing a divorce. End of story, right?
Not exactly. You may have heard various celebrities paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure their divorce. Likewise, you may have heard horror stories of ordinary people paying upwards of $30,000 to $100,000 to get divorced. So what gives? Why is divorce so expensive? And where are these fees going? As it turns out, how you achieve your divorce plays the biggest role in how much you will spend.
In Utah, the cost of divorce seems to range anywhere from $3,000 for an uncontested divorce all the way up to $30,000, and more, for divorce cases that wind up going to trial. These additional fees beyond the $333 filing fees go to two primary sources: (1) Your attorney, and (2) any experts used during the divorce process. Because attorneys and experts (not the court) are the number one source of expenses in divorce, it makes sense that the way in which you achieve your divorce plays the largest role in how much you will spend.
So, then, how does one control his or her expenses and fees in the face of divorce? If your spouse hires an aggressive attorney whose main goal is to seek and destroy, you will probably need to get your own divorce litigator on board to defend and oppose these “scorched earth” tactics. Be prepared to pay a lot for these lawyers and for divorces secured through this method.
The key to controlling costs and expenses in divorce is education. Learn as much as possible about the divorce process itself as well as the methods available to achieve a divorce before starting the process. Then, talk to your spouse if possible. Making educated decisions and keeping the dialogue open (even if it’s difficult) is your best bet to curb run away divorce costs.
A good place to start your divorce legal education is learning about the four primary methods of divorce in Utah.
The Four Primary Methods of Divorce in Utah
There are four primary methods to get a divorce in Utah. Listed in order of expense starting with the most expensive, these methods are as follows: (1) the litigated divorce; (2) the collaborative divorce; (3) the mediated divorce; and (4) the uncontested divorce.
The litigated divorce is, bar none, the most expensive way to get divorced, with collaborative divorce nipping at its heels as the second most expensive method. So why are litigated and collaborative divorces so expensive? It all has to do with the time involved, the lawyer you hire, and any experts that are used throughout the process.
1. Litigated Divorce ($$$$)
Litigated divorces are not only more expensive, they also tend to be longer, spanning anywhere from three months to a year or more. They are active, requiring a lot of planning, detail, and pursuit. They are also demanding, with deadlines, due dates, and court hearings. The more aggressive your attorney is (or your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s attorney is), the more expensive your divorce will be. Put another way, the more time and work that is required to produce your divorce, the more expensive your divorce will be.
Litigated divorces seem to be the norm in Utah. Some attorneys start every divorce as a litigated case right out of the gate. The divorce is filed and papers are served by a sheriff, constable, or private process server. This means the other party is served (read threatened) with court papers at the get-go.
Whether it comes as a surprise or is expected, getting served legal papers is threatening. The served spouse will likely feel threatened and immediately seek out an attorney to protect him or her. Then, the battle begins: The parties are thrust into adversarial positions at the outset, making co-parenting more difficult and resolution less likely.
Litigation is useful when all other avenues to reach a resolution have failed. Litigation can create obstacles to co-parenting. It is a terrible way to communicate, and it is inefficient at resolving family disputes. Litigation in divorce should be a last resort. In cases of criminal behavior and/or domestic violence, however, litigation may be the safest—if only—option. If domestic violence is an issue for you, seek competent legal advice right away.
2. Collaborative Divorce ($$$)
Collaborative divorce is a process by which the parties use mediation and negotiations to settle their divorce. It is the second most expensive method to divorce due, in part, to the number of experts used during the process. With collaborative divorce, lawyers are involved. Each party hires their own lawyer who is trained in the collaborative divorce process. The lawyers and the parties then agree on an action plan that typically involves exchanging financial and other evidentiary documentation as well as the retainer of certain experts to help them through the dispute process such as mediators, custody evaluators, parent-time coordinators, or therapists.
3. Mediated Divorce ($$)
Mediation is an alternate dispute resolution process embraced by all Utah state courts. All parties to a Utah divorce action are required to mediate at least once in good faith. Some divorcing couples resolve their entire dispute using just a mediator. Some will find their own lawyer and attend mediation with representation. Mediation is a process in which a trained mediator works with you and the other party to fully explore the issues in dispute and to give you an opportunity to resolve the conflict on your own.
Although many divorce mediators are lawyers, mediators cannot give either party legal advice nor can they make decisions on behalf of the parties. They are neutral third parties who help facilitate a resolution between the divorcing parties. The difference between a collaborative divorce and a mediated divorce is the requirement of a lawyer. Parties to a mediated divorce may or may not have lawyers. Collaborative divorce uses the process of mediation throughout its duration, often more than once.
Pro se parties should beware, however. If you choose to mediate without a lawyer, mediators usually will not draft your final legal paperwork. If you do not have an attorney draft your final stipulation and decree of divorce, you should, at a minimum, find one to review it. On the other hand, represented parties usually have their respective counsel draft and exchange papers with the other. Then each will see to it that appropriate papers are filed with the court and entered officially entered on the record.
4. Uncontested Divorce ($)
An uncontested divorce is where both divorcing parties can fully agree on all issues presented by the divorce and each is willing to sign divorce papers to effect their agreement.
Uncontested divorces are inexpensive because in some cases you can do-it-yourself. Inexpensive legal forms are available from a variety of sources. Parties handling their own legal work will, thus, be responsible for all of the leg work and pushing the matter through to finalization. You can also get an attorney’s help to draft and electronically file your uncontested paperwork for you. The attorney can then monitor the matter as it works its way through the court until your decree is officially entered and approved.
The Fifth (Lesser-Known) Method of Divorce in Utah
There is a fifth, but lesser known, method to get a divorce in Utah we call pre-suit divorce. Here, the parties resolve their divorce issues before legal proceedings are filed using either the mediated divorce method or uncontested divorce method. In order to successfully use a pre-suit method, both parties must agree to it. Mutual agreement is a requirement for the mediated divorce and uncontested divorce methods as well.
The pre-suit method is typically not used by lawyers for two reasons: (1) pre-suit divorces aren’t money-makers; and (2) lawyers understand and are familiar with Utah’s family law statutes and court rules. As such, they are far more comfortable going to court if negotiations fall through. However, pro se parties or parties seeking to minimize acrimony and conflict may desire a resolution process without the threat of immediate court or a requirement to hire an expensive, full-scope attorney.
It is a smart idea to start out in a pre-suit capacity, if possible. If you start out using a pre-suit method but you are unable to come to a resolution, you are still in a much better position than if you skipped the pre-suit step. This is because during the pre-suit process you will have ascertained all kinds of helpful and necessary information that many fight for during litigation, paying an attorney thousands of dollars in the meantime.
The pre-suit process may not be appropriate for parties with urgent financial or custodial needs or where domestic violence is involved. For an unrepresented party to successfully handle a pre-suit/pro se divorce, he or she should be educated not only on the process of divorce itself, but also on the common legal issues found in a Utah divorce.
If you are looking at divorce, but hoping to contain costs, the pre-suit divorce process is the first place to start. If that does not work, consider a mediated divorce or the collaborative divorce process. If neither avenue is available, the last resort is litigation. To learn more about the Utah divorce process and common legal issues found in divorce, check out Evorce.net. To learn more about divorce costs in Utah check How to Interview a Divorce Lawyer. To learn more about the different kinds of legal services in Utah check out Lawyers, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!
Jennifer is a trusted Utah family law attorney, having assisted thousands of clients through the complex process of divorce.