How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Northern Virginia?


Getting a divorce anywhere – but particularly in Northern Virginia — will be one of the most important financial decisions of your life.

Not only will you need to split up all of your hard-earned assets and worrying debts, but you will also need to pay the equivalent of a king’s ransom to your attorneys to get you through the process – unless you skip litigation and go straight to mediation.

My mediation clients, who were litigating before they came to my firm, let me know that, even after $20,000 to $40,000in attorney fees – per spouse – they are still in the infancy stage of their divorce settlement. What is going on?

The divorce system in Virginia is designed for the attorneys. Not the couple who is getting divorced. The system is crazy-complicated and the process and procedure necessary to get anything done is confounding to even the most sophisticated clients. Attorneys have to practically do somersaults to get anything done. They are not necessarily ripping you off, but the system, itself, is set up against your best interest.

Bottom Line

In Northern Virginia, you need to be prepared to pay up to $130,000, per spouse, for a fully contested divorce with minor children. With no minor children, you need to be prepared to pay up to $100,000, per spouse.

Most cases, however, do not end up going to trial. In other words, once the clients are no longer willing to pay the attorneys their exorbitant fees, the case gets settled. At that time, though, both spouses have usually spent at least $20,000 before they come the conclusion that putting on their “reasonable hat” and buckling down to serious settlement negotiations is their best option.

My Story

When I got my own divorce in 2007, the attorney’s fees were $25,000 for me and $25,000 for my husband. This was an uncontested divorce where my husband and I did all the settlement negotiations ourselves.

Even though I had been a family law attorney for many years in Chicago, I was new to Virginia, so I needed to hire an attorney to guide me through the laws and quirks of the Virginia divorce system.

Now that I have been doing divorce mediation in Virginia for over 15 years, I see the game that my attorney was trying to play. If I had stuck with his preferred track, I would have easily been out another $50-75,000 and would have probably had a worse outcome than my ex and I came up with based on my general divorce expertise and both of our strong desires to be reasonable in our demands.

It makes me furious to think back at how our attorneys did everything they could to keep the money rolling in. I admit, as a lawyer, that it was interesting to see how messed up the Virginia system is … but that “show” was not worth our combined $50,000 for, basically, nothing.

The Bottom Line

Before you decide to litigate, consider that a fully contested divorce will cost you about the same as sending two kids to a Virginia state university, including room and board.

How to Keep Divorce Costs Down in a Virginia Divorce

If you want to keep your divorce costs down in Virginia – whether you let an attorney do the driving or you opt to settle with a qualified mediator — you need to assess where you are willing to compromise. You can’t go full guns on all matters and expect to be at the low end of the attorney fee spectrum. You will need to:

  • Assess where the wiggle-room is;
  • Determine your non-negotiables;
  • Understand that 50/50 is the norm in terms of asset and debt division;
  • Not get hung up on the emotional issues related to your divorce;
  • Understand that a non-working spouse will probably get spousal support (you need to focus on how much and how long, not a flat “no”);
  • and

  • Fully understand your family’s finances and what you can reasonably expect, in Northern Virginia, as your final outcome (versus focusing on “fairness” – which is a fiction more than a fact).

Your attorney will move forward with any irrational position that you insist that he or she present, but you could very well be burning up cash in the meantime that could be better used for your living expenses, your retirement, or your children.

Mediation Is Your Best Option

If both you and your spouse believe that both of you will: (a) tell the truth about the family finances; (b) be able to function in a rational manner; and (c) there is no history of domestic violence, you will probably be able to mediate without an attorney.

If you come to my firm, your mediator fees will be between $5,900 – $7,200 for both the mediation sessions and the drafting of the settlement agreement. Most cases take two to three 3-hour mediation sessions. My hourly rate is $450. Some cases are a little less, and some a little more, but $5,900-$7,200 is about right for most couples.

Mediators who are certified by the State of Virginia (like me) are required to tell their clients that they should have a lawyer; but we are not required to tell our clients that they must have a lawyer.

Most of my clients are not represented. However, if either spouse is opting for a settlement that gives me a queasy feeling, I often require that they see the appropriate professional for specific advice on that topic. That professional might be an attorney, but sometimes it is a financial planner/wealth management advisor, a CPA, a therapist, a career counselor, or a mortgage lender.

One of a mediator’s primary jobs is to be sure the clients have all the information they need to make informed decisions. This includes information about divorce laws, divorce taxation, divorce finance, and what the experts are saying about various custody arrangements on the well-being of children. If your mediator has a background as a divorce attorney, and, like me, is also a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, you will probably be in good shape to to settle your case without the involvement other professionals. If you get skittish, though, the attorneys are always there and ready to help you out.

​Still confused about getting divorced in Virginia?

Don’t worry, I can help! 

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