Cost of the Divorce Process in Wisconsin
One of the first concerns people have about a divorce is how much it will cost. Well-meaning friends and family offer their own cautionary tales about cost overruns, surprise fees, and exorbitant expenses. That is why Karp & Iancu S.C. offers five transparent divorce packages and provides the following helpful guidelines, so you know exactly what to expect.
Typical Costs | Retainers v. Flat Fees | FAQs | Risks of Pro Se Divorce | How to Minimize Costs
Can I get divorced without a lawyer? | Does it cost money to serve divorce papers in Wisconsin? | How much does it cost to file for divorce in Wisconsin? | How much should you expect to pay for an uncontested divorce? | How much should you expect to pay for a contested divorce? | What impacts the cost of divorce?
Typical Cost of Divorce in Wisconsin
- Lowest Cost: A typical Wisconsin divorce can cost as little as $1,500-$3000* (not including filing and service fees which are paid to third parties and not to your lawyer). This assumes all issues are uncontested—meaning you and your spouse agree on how to resolve all issues and have only one court hearing to finalize the divorce.
- Average Cost: The average cost of a simple Wisconsin divorce is $3,000 to $6,000.* You can expect to spend this amount if you and your spouse need help negotiating an agreement or if disagreements make communication and cooperation difficult. These costs assume you will need two court hearings—one to establish temporary orders at the beginning of the divorce to designate your rights and responsibilities while the divorce is pending, and one hearing to finalize the divorce.
- Highest Cost: Imagine how much you think a divorce -should- cost. Now double that figure. The figure you are now imagining is -half- of what a divorce could cost on the high end of the spectrum. A high-end divorce could cost five figures or more.* You are likely to incur these fees if your divorce is particularly complex or contentious—especially if the difficult issues involve custody and placement of your children or the division of complex assets such as a closely held business. You are also likely to have multiple court appearances.
*These amounts are per spouse if each spouse has an attorney.
Traditional Retainers v. Flat Fees
We recognize that every case is different. Our law firm offers both traditional retainers and hourly rates as well as flat fee representation. We will discuss your options with you and present different pricing alternatives for you to choose from at the time of your consultation.
Divorce Cost FAQs
Can I get divorced without a lawyer in Wisconsin?
Of course. You have a constitutional right to represent yourself in court, but you can also have a baby without an obstetrician. And just because you can, doesn’t mean you should! During a divorce (much as it is with childbirth) it is nice—especially when things go wrong—to have someone by your side who has been through the process hundreds of times and can take control of the situation to ensure you and your children emerge as quickly and as safely as possible. It is equally important that when you are feeling your worst and like nothing is going right—that you have someone who can reassure you it is perfectly natural to be in so much pain. And that everything is still okay.
Does it cost money to serve divorce papers in Wisconsin?
Sometimes. If you and your spouse file a Joint Petition for divorce, it does not have to be “served” on anyone and there are no services costs involved. But if only one of you files for divorce, the Petition will have to be served on the other party. If the other party is cooperative, they can agree to pick-up the divorce papers from your lawyer’s office or consent to receive them via mail. Then all they must do is sign a receipt. This does not mean they agree with the divorce—merely that they received the Petition. In this instance, the only cost is the cost of a postage stamp.
But, if your spouse is not cooperative and will not accept the papers voluntarily, you will likely have to pay a process server (either a private business or the local Sheriff’s department) to serve the Petition. This can cost anywhere from $35 to more than $100 depending on how many times the process server has to attempt service.
If your spouse cannot be served either because they evade service or because their current whereabouts are unknown, you will have to publish the Petition in a special newspaper in the community of their last-known address. Publication can cost between $200 and $300 in addition to the foregoing service costs.
How much does it cost to file for divorce in Wisconsin?
Everyone who initiates a divorce in Wisconsin must pay a filing fee to the county whether or not they are represented by an attorney. These fees defray the county’s administrative costs of handling your divorce file. The fees vary by county (and are slightly higher if your case will also involve child support or spousal support), but they are generally in the range of $200 to $300.
How much should you expect to pay for an uncontested divorce?
A typical uncontested divorce likely costs between $1,500 and $3,000.
How much should you expect to pay for a contested divorce?
A contested divorce can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 or more.
What Impacts the Cost of Divorce?
Many things can impact the cost of a divorce. The good news is that most of these things are within your control.
- Your truthfulness with your lawyer: Being honest upfront can save you lots of money because your attorney will not spend time discovering facts or information you have already made them aware of and can help them mitigate unnecessary court appearances or other litigation.
- Your cooperation with your lawyer: If your lawyer asks you to provide documents or other information, it will save you money if you respond quickly and in full. If your lawyer must spend extra time following up and giving reminders or asking for supplemental information you failed to provide, it results in unnecessary additional costs for you.
- Your cooperation with the court or court-appointed experts: Attending all scheduled court appearances on time and being flexible in scheduling court dates gives you the best chance for moving your case along quickly. Being inflexible or obstructionist will certainly result in additional costs. The same goes for meetings with the Guardian ad Litem, vocational evaluators, business valuation experts, and others.
- Your attitude about the divorce process: Even under the best of circumstances, getting divorced is difficult. But the more patient and accepting you can be about the process, the easier (and cheaper) it will be. Being receptive to creative options and listening to your attorney’s cost-benefit analysis about certain issues can help you move through the process both faster and more economically. Digging in your heels to punish the other party or choosing costly battles over inexpensive items is a sure-fire way to increase the costs of your divorce.
Some things, however, can impact the cost of divorce that are not within your or your attorney’s control. Some of those things are:
- The Opposing Party: We cannot make your spouse be cooperative or forgiving. We cannot make them honest. We cannot make them be a better parent. If your spouse is antagonistic, uncooperative, or is the type of person who will lie, conceal assets, or manipulate your children, we cannot generally stop them from escalating the divorce process—and causing you to also incur additional fees and costs.
- The Opposing Attorney: Some attorneys are better than others. When your spouse has chosen someone who is unresponsive, unavailable, or otherwise difficult to work with, it can slow-down the process and make it more difficult—and expensive.
- The Court and/or Court Schedule: Family courts are notoriously busy. This means you may not be able to get a hearing date for several weeks—or months! Your attorney also has no control over which judge is assigned to your case. Judges are human, too. They have their own personal preferences and idiosyncrasies that you and your lawyer cannot control. This means that sometimes the court is an inadvertent roadblock to a quick and cost-effective resolution of your case.
- Third-party witnesses and service providers: Sometimes your lawyer employs experts to help with your case. Other times, the court may appoint experts to help the judge understand your case issues or make recommendations to him or her about your case. Again, these experts such as business valuators, family therapists, Guardians ad Litem, or forensic accountants may create additional costs or delays that you have no control over.
Potential Risks of a Pro Se Divorce
You have the right to represent yourself in a divorce matter, but there are risks to having yourself as a client.
First, you will be held to the same standard as attorneys when it comes to knowledge of the law, courtroom procedure, and ethics. And while the court may give you some leniency as you learn, it cannot give you any help. The court cannot give you legal advice or direction about how to manage or present your case. And while it is unethical for attorneys to take advantage of an unrepresented party, they are not obligated to point-out your mistakes or make things easy for you. Therefore, if your spouse is represented by counsel and you are not, you will have to be extra savvy.
Second, if you and your spouse are both pro se, you risk overlooking important legal issues or procedures that attorneys typically handle and that you have no idea need to be accomplished. For example, even if you and your spouse agree to divide your pension equally—you can’t just leave it at that. There are special court orders required for the division of a pension that must be drafted by an attorney or by experienced firms that exist solely for that purpose. You also may not have a good understanding of what your pension administrator requires in order to accomplish the division or what the consequences are if the pension order is not drafted as needed. This is only one example of the many nuances of a divorce decree that require specialized knowledge. As they say, “Don’t try this at home!”.
How to Minimize the Costs of Divorce
The best way to get the most time-efficient and cost-effective divorce possible is to hire an experienced lawyer who understands—and shares—your goal of leaving the marriage with the least upheaval possible.
To do this, think of your lawyer as a taxi driver. You jump in the back seat with a clear idea of where you want to go and a general idea of how to get there—but, then leave the driving to your lawyer because she has traveled these roads many times before. She knows where there are roadblocks (the court!) or where there are obstructions (opposing counsel!) and can navigate around those very efficiently. But if you want to shout orders and reroute her from the back seat—“Go left! No. Go right! No! Turn here!”—your lawyer will very often take your tortured path. But at that point, just be clear: You are likely to end up in a bad neighborhood, far away from your original destination, and the fare will be much, MUCH higher.
Because aside from an effective lawyer, the single most important factor that will determine your divorce costs is YOU. The more you listen to and cooperate with your lawyer, the faster you will get to the finish line while preserving your bottom line.
Karp & Iancu, S.C. Divorce Packages
- DIY Divorce: Starts at $599
- Uncontested Divorce: Starts at $1,699
- Mediated Divorce: Starts at $1,799/Spouse
- Collaborative/Cooperative Divorce: Starts at $2,699
- Contested Divorce: Starts at $2,999
What If I Have More Questions?
You can always take a look at our Frequently Asked Divorce Questions to get a better idea of what factors affect the divorce process. If you feel you are ready to file for divorce, reach out to our attorneys today by filling out the form below. After a brief discussion about the issues you’re facing, our divorce lawyers can give you an accurate and transparent estimate as to how much your divorce case will cost.