Though it is not impossible to file for free, most couples who get a divorce in California will have to at least pay for the expenses of filing a petition. Whether one person is filing a petition against another or a joint petition is submitted, the first-time filing fee in California varies but can be over $400.
There are various additional fees which could come with a court appearance. For some procedures, there is generally no charge, including:
• One spouse filing a paper waiving their right to challenge divorce proceedings
• Domestic violence restraining orders
• Most papers filed by or in response to child support services
Filing for other procedures may incur small fees generally no more than $50. These can include:
• A motion to show the other spouse is legally at fault in a divorce
• Motions to show cause why custody or visitation rights should be changed
In matters related to helping protect children, the court has the discretion to set a fee for child custody evaluations.
People who are unable to pay for the filing fees for a divorce may be able to have them waived. You are required to file a request for a waiver. Should your financial circumstances change at any time, you must inform the court and be required to pay back some or all of the fees you weren’t charged.
If both parties are able to agree on all the terms of their separation and submit a written plan with a joint request for divorce, a filing fee will be the only expense. When the spouses cannot come to agreement, lawyers’ fees may become involved. Before going to court, some couples may decide let a lawyer mediate their negotiations to come up with a plan that can be submitted to court. While how this lawyer will be paid is a matter for the couple to decide, if no agreement can be reached the same attorney cannot represent either side in court.
While it is not necessary to have a lawyer represent you in family court at any time, people involved with contentious divorce proceedings may decide the expense is worthwhile. Most attorneys of this type charge by the hour, and their fees can easily exceed $200 per hour. For this reason, if you decide to engage private legal counsel, it is important to obtain a detailed estimate of how many hours of preparation will be needed for a court appearance, what you can reasonably expect the total cost to be and what your payment schedule will be.
If one spouse is seeking alimony or child support payments, this will be an additional expense either agreed to before trial or awarded by a judge. Factors taken into consideration include:
• The standard of living established during the marriage
• Both spouses’ earning ability
• Health insurance expenses for any children involved
Such payments may be ordered on a temporary or indefinite basis by the court.