By: Attorney Susan Hansen, Co-founder of Family Mediation Center
Cost is an important question for couples considering divorce or other family law issues. Costs are directly determined by what process you choose and whether you and your spouse can cooperate in providing information and reaching agreements. Be certain you understand the various divorce process options available to you before you begin.
In this guide, we’ll provide clear, detailed information about the different divorce process options available in Wisconsin and their costs. We'll discuss everything from self-representation to mediation, and the potential costs associated with each, to help you make an informed decision.
The Cost of Self-Representation/Pro Se Divorce
In a self-represented/pro se divorce, you do all drafting, filing, and legal steps yourself. Do-it-yourself divorce can avoid legal fees, but making mistakes or ending up in conflict after filing can result in returns to court and higher fees in the long run. If you do not reach an agreement, you may be court-ordered to mediation. Regardless of the outcome, you will be responsible for the filing fee.
Limited Scope Representation/Consulting Lawyer Costs
With limited scope representation, you hire a lawyer only for out-of-court advising and assistance. You only pay for the services you need. Hourly rates at different law firms vary from anywhere between $275-$500/hour per party.
Mediation: A Cost-Effective Divorce Solution
In divorce mediation, you and your spouse jointly retain one neutral lawyer to provide legal education, negotiation assistance, drafting documents, and help navigate the court system. This effectively lowers your costs because you are working with one lawyer rather than each hiring your own. You also have the option of working with child or financial specialists to obtain specialized professional assistance. Fees for lawyer mediators vary significantly with hourly rates from $250-$450/hour and $2,500-$10,000 flat fee. A key difference is that with one neutral lawyer, mediation costs are shared by both parties. Family Mediation Center offers high quality services at a low cost; check out specific cost options here.
Collaborative Divorce Costs
In a collaborative divorce, you each hire your own lawyer and you, your spouse, and your spouse’s lawyer work together in a team approach to reach out-of-court agreements. Specialists may be involved as needed. Though you have the cost of two lawyers to advise and assist with negotiations, the process is less expensive than using adversarial lawyers and courts to make family and financial decisions for you. Total costs vary based on conflict, complexity, and efficiency of the process. An approximate range could be between $5,000 to $15,000 per party.
Lawyer Negotiation/Litigation: Traditional Divorce Costs
The traditional divorce process in which one or both of you hire a lawyer to advocate for your positions in negotiations and court hearings is likely to be the most expensive. Though most cases end up resolved by agreement, this process can include numerous contested court hearings, separately retained experts, a Guardian ad Litem for children, and even a trial. Traditional litigation is usually the most expensive process with highly variable costs that can range from $10,000 to $50,000 or more for each party.
If you are offered a “flat fee” payment approach, be certain you understand what is included for any fee you pay. Some flat fees cover only part of the legal services you will need, and total costs are likely to be significantly higher than your initial payment. Also, understand the difference between a fee deposit that is used to pay hourly fees per monthly invoices with any remaining balance returned to you vs. a non-refundable fee deposit.
Please note that the ranges above are only estimates and the largest factor of cost is the amount of conflict or cooperation between the parties.
Family Mediation Center Is Here to Help
Family Mediation Center was created to provide affordable mediation services to help couples reach agreements and navigate the legal process with minimal conflict and cost. If you can both safely communicate and cooperate, mediation can be an effective and cost-efficient option to obtain legal education and guidance without escalating expenses. Mediation also helps ensure you make well-informed decisions to avoid future court conflicts.
To schedule a consultation or to receive more information about your process options and cost, contact the Family Mediation Center or call us at 414-939-6707.
All inquiries are confidential.