One factor in the financial devastation that often accompanies a divorce is the often high cost of asserting one's legal rights through the North Carolina court system. While self-represented parties filing uncontested divorces populate the cheapest end of the spectrum, other litigants find themselves paying tens of thousands of dollars or more. Exactly how much a divorce costs depends on a variety of factors that make it impossible to accurately predict a number.
Court Costs and Other Third-Party Fees
In October of 2010, North Carolina raised court costs in family law cases to $100 and absolute divorce costs to $175. These initial costs pale in comparison to other litigation expenses. Expect a hefty bill if your case requires your attorney to take depositions, which necessitate a court reporter at rates exceeding $100 an hour. Reporter fees for the production of certified deposition transcripts can run hundreds of dollars or more, depending on the length of the transcript. Fees to private investigators and expert witnesses such as child psychologists can drive the cost of some divorce cases over the price of a small house.
Expect divorce to cost more in urban areas such as Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro. The higher cost of living in these locales in comparison with rural areas such as Caswell or Pender counties translates into a higher cost for lawyers trying to operate an office. Additionally, lawyers tend to command higher rates in urban areas due to the availability of wealthier clients with the ability to pay those rates. A divorce action can cost more even in rural counties, however, if the court system operates inefficiently.
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Individual Attorneys and Firms
Just like cars, attorneys and their firms run the gamut from affordable to astronomical. Expect to pay more for an experienced family law attorney in a large firm than you will for a fresh law school graduate operating a solo practice. Considerable variation exists within experiential and firm type categories due to differences in reputation and clientele. An action that costs $5,000 with one lawyer could easily cost $30,000 with another.
Complexity of the Case
Understandably, complex cases will cost the litigants more than matters that can be addressed quickly and efficiently. Cases requiring depositions, expert testimony and numerous evidentiary exhibits will not only cost more in court reporter and expert witness fees, but they will require more attorney time to manage and prepare. Additionally, some divorce cases may lie beyond the capabilities of some lower-priced attorneys; a new law school graduate operating on his own may not be competent to handle a multimillion-dollar equitable distribution case or a matter involving a significant alimony obligation on the part of a wealthy party.
Personalities and Goals of the Parties
The largest cost determinant in any divorce case will be the behavior of the parties themselves. Couples who can agree on how to distribute assets, arrange child custody and resolve spousal support can get away with far less than a couple bent on fighting to the bitter end.