$2,000 TO $5,000? WHY YOU SHOULD AVOID

There is really no such thing as an "uncontested divorce." There is only a divorce where the details have been hashed out privately before getting to court. An "uncontested divorce" is really a "pre-litigated divorce" where the parties work out the details on their own. Pretty much the same disputes have to be worked out outside of court as normally presented inside a courtroom.

But a pre-litigated divorce still takes a lot of work outside of court. Spouses still need -- or should understand that they need -- a lawyer's advice on issues that most people forget to consider and how to structure things to get where they want to go and also a lawyer's assistance writing up their plans.

Really, there is no such thing as an "uncontested divorce" because there are many issues that most people are not aware of. Most people don't know all of the issues that must be considered. Therefore, they do not yet know if their spouse will contest or not contest each one of the details.

How can one know if the divorce is contested or uncontested if you do not know all the questions that you might agree on or disagree on?

As a result, any attorney who charges less than $2,000 for a divorce cannot do a competent job for that price. And that is at my low prices. That is 20 hours of professional work (billable hours) at my lowest discount rate of $100 per hour for those in the greatest financial need or difficult circumstances. To do a competent job of handling your divorce, including time spent in court, an attorney should invest at least 30 to 50 billable hours of professional time, possibly much more.

Beware of advertising specials for "uncontested divorce" at a ridiculously low price like $300. I am all for making legal services financially available to those of limited means. I have often offered very deep discounts to consumers who cannot afford to pay expensive fees for attorneys.

At the billable rates of most law firms, a normal divorce would be expected to cost $5,000 to $15,000. That is a range of 25 billable hours of professional services at $200 per billable hour to 50 hours of professional work at $300 per hour.

Second, there is no such thing as the Court is concerned of a simplified or uncontested divorce. If you file for divorce, the legal system and Virginia courts will automatically assume you will schedule and hold a "pendente lite" hearing during which temporary measures will be ordered during the roughly eight months to one year it will take for your divorce to work its way through the court system. (Remember that the courts already have other people waiting in line. You're not the only person competing for the court's calendar of available hearing dates.)

You can waive temporary support, temporary child custody and visitation issues by waiving the pendente lite hearing and process. But the Court expects your divorce will typically include a pendente lite hearing.

Third, it is then mandatory that the Court hold an evidentiary hearing (witnesses, evidence, documents, argument) on child custody, child visitation, and child support hearings if there are any minor children in the marriage.

If the spouses work out a detailed plan in the form of a court order, the agreed order can be presented to the Court instead of the hearing. The hearing will be cancelled if the spouses work out an agreed order. But that means that every detail -- details you probably would not imagine at this point -- have to be completely worked out and written up in legal language. If you and your spouse agree on 90% to 95% of the details you have no agreement. You have to agree on 100% of everything, not 99%, not 90%. You cannot skip the hearing without perfect agreement on 100% of every detail, including writing it up in language that is legally correct which everyone agrees upon.

Even then, the judge may very well want to read the agreed order with you in court, ask you questions, clarify anything that the judge doesn't think is clear or the judge thinks is problematic. That is, the judge can say NO to your proposed agreed order.

An example would be that the spouses write up something that does not actually decide an issue but in the judge's opinion kicks the can down the road.

If the judge thinks (for example) that parts of the order are unworkable or indeterminate -- that is the judge worries that you are just going to end up back in front of him or her again with disputes and problems created by a vaguely-written plan -- the judge could refuse to sign the order as you wrote it. The judge also must look out for the best interests of the minor children.

So it is a ton of work for the spouses to work out these details. Just because the details are worked out before you get to court does not mean you can skip a lot of an attorney's time for legal services. An "uncontested divorce" only means that you do this work outside of court ahead of time. But it still requires a lot of an attorney's professional time.

Fourth, it is required that the court hold an evidentiary hearing (witnesses, evidence, documents, argument) on "equitable distribution" -- division of property, assets, debts, liabilities, business interests, possible marital support (alimony), insurance, etc.

Again, if the spouses work out a detailed plan in the form of a court order, the agreed order can be presented to the Court instead of the hearing. The hearing will be cancelled if the spouses work out an agreed order. But again, this is a lot of work. The agreed order must cover a couple dozen issues that most people never consider. And if you don't agree 100% on every detail with your spouse, you have no agreement at all. And again, the judge could refuse to sign the order if he thinks it leaves issues vague and undecided, or is not well-written (not a workable plan), etc.

Even if you avoid the need for a hearing, you and your attorney will put in almost as much time outside of court working out the details privately as you would have spent in court in a contested hearing.

Fifth, you must have a hearing on the grounds for divorce. Traditionally this is included in the equitable distribution hearing, but it can be a separate independent hearing. You must have a witness to testify to the end of the marriage, etc. This is called the ore tenus hearing.

Sixth, this must be written up as a final divorce decree, including with mandatory statements and disclosures required by statute. There are forms that must be filed with the vital statistics office. There may be name changes ordered.