How Much Does Divorce Cost In California?

“So, how much will it cost me to get divorced?” This is probably one of the first questions that come to mind when one or both parties in a marriage begin considering dissolving their marriage. Everyone knows that divorce isn’t cheap – not many are quite prepared for just how costly it can get.

The average cost for a litigated divorce in Orange County is a whopping $80,000 per party – a figure that rises by the year. Divorce attorneys are often driven by a perverse system of incentives to deepen animosity between the parties and drag out proceedings as they “zealously represent” their client, which can inflate costs dramatically. 

As if that combined cost of over $160,000 isn’t enough, depending on the couple’s situation, a number of additional costs can be incurred that will dig even deeper into the now-defunct couple’s finances. As the list of assessors required to guarantee an equitable settlement grows, the costs of the separation can quickly get out of hand. Here are a few of the most common additional services and expenses that are likely to get tacked on to your divorce bill in a litigated divorce.

Forensic Accountant

As the name implies, a forensic accountant acts as a financial investigator that digs into the records of one or both parties to determine real incomes and earnings. There are two primary reasons a party would request a forensic accountant during divorce proceedings:

  1. One party owns a business and the other wants to be sure that the income from that business and its valuation are being fairly assessed.
  2. Determining the actual value of a business.
  3. If the spousal support is being provided in one lump sum rather than in continual monthly payments over time, a forensic accountant can help determine the size of what that singular payment should be.

Vocational Valuation

Another potential expense for couples where one party has been the homemaker or the higher income or earning party believes the other party is earning below their earning potential would be a vocational valuation. Vocational valuations are somewhat speculative evaluations of a party’s potential income if they never left the workforce. These valuations are based on the person’s age, time out of the workforce, education, skill set, and employability in today’s marketplace.

If the party is now forced to re-enter the workforce after a sizable absence, the income gap between what they will actually make and what they could have been making minus the absence will need to be considered in the divorce settlement. This assessment takes time, effort, and expertise, which means it will incur a significant additional cost during the proceedings.

Family Trust Revocation 

Family trusts that are created while the marriage is still intact are forcibly invalidated in the event of a divorce. Once the trust becomes invalidated, the couple can create new individual trusts for themselves and their children if they so desire. Any revoking of a trust will incur additional costs for the trustees to the tune of around $500. 


A QDRO, or qualified domestic relations order, is used when a settlement agreement involves moving retirement money from one party’s retirement account to the other party’s retirement account as part of the community asset equalization structure. The QDRO is a separate legal transaction that is done after the divorce has been completed, which means more legal fees and delays for both parties. These fees can range from $2500 to $5000 and take an additional 3 to 6 months to complete post-divorce.

An Easier (And Cheaper) Alternative

Contrary to popular depiction, litigating your divorce is not your only option. There are methods far less costly to both of your finances, your relationship, and your physical and mental health. Utilizing mediation for your divorce will reduce costs by around 90% on average. That means the total cost for your divorce would potentially drop $72,000, or $144,000 for both parties in the relationship!

By utilizing mediation, you’ll also save yourself the headache of being stuck in court battles for years on end. Best of all, you can be free of the perverse incentive system that drives couples to do as much emotional and financial damage to one another as possible.