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The 5 Best and 5 Worst States to Get a Divorce in the US: Where Does Your State Rank?

Nadav Shemer
The 5 Best and 5 Worst States to Get a Divorce in the US: Where Does Your State Rank?
Getting a divorce is never easy, but it can be a better or worse experience depending where you file the papers. That’s because divorce laws, processing times, and costs vary wildly from state to state–and the differences can translate to thousands of dollars lost or saved.

Ranking the best and worst states to get divorced in depends largely on your perspective. For example, if your spouse is the main breadwinner, then you may be better off divorcing in 1 of the 9 community property states that split all assets acquired during the marriage on a 50/50 basis. If your spouse has cheated on you, there are 33 states that allow a person filing for divorce to allege adultery or other fault-based grounds.

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In preparing this guide we compared the states by objective measures, namely:

  • Court filing fees
  • Average attorney fees for a contested divorce that is resolved through a settlement agreement but doesn’t go to trial
  • Waiting period (also known as a cooling-off period) before your divorce can be finalized

The result, which you can find below, is our list of the 5 best and 5 worst states to get a divorce.

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The Top 5 Best States to Get A Divorce:

1. New Mexico

In the competition for best state to get a divorce, New Mexico is a clear winner.  It’s 1 of the 10 cheapest states for filing fees, is number 1 or 2 for lowest average attorney fees (depending who you ask), and is 1 of 8 states with a minimum waiting period of 30 days or less before a judge can sign off on your divorce.

Minimum filing fee: $135-155

Average attorney fees: $6,000

Minimum waiting period: 0-30 days

Key fact: If there are no minor children involved and your spouse agrees to waive the waiting period, your divorce can be made final the same day it’s filed. 

2. Montana

Montana earned the nickname ‘The Treasure State’ because of its gold and silver reserves, but it could just as easily have got it because it lets you keep more of your money during a divorce. Montana is the only state as cheap as New Mexico for divorce attorney fees, but misses out on first place because of its slightly higher filing fees.

Minimum filing fee: $200-$245

Average attorney fees: $6,000

Minimum waiting period: 20 days

Key fact: Montana allows spouses to file for divorce without a cooling-off period, but there is a minimum 20-day wait until the divorce hearing. 

3. Mississippi

The standard fee for filing a divorce in Mississippi is the cheapest in the country, although some counties do impose additional fees. Mississippi is 1 of the 10 cheapest states in the US when measured by average divorce attorney fees. Its cooling-off period is close to the national average.

Minimum filing fee: $52-$120

Average attorney fees: $8,000

Minimum waiting period: 60 days

Key fact: Mississippi is 1 of 3 states (along with Tennessee and South Dakota) in which both parties must consent to provide information about irreconcilable differences. In all other no-fault states, only 1 party has to file for irreconcilable differences. 

4. South Dakota

South Dakota is 1 of cheapest states in the country when it comes to filing fees and attorney costs. It’s also below average in terms of how long you have to wait to have your divorce finalized. The lack of a minimum residency requirement (see below) sneaks the Mount Rushmore State into our top 5.

Minimum filing fee: $95

Average attorney fees: $8,000

Minimum waiting period: 60 days

Key fact: South Dakota is 1 of 3 states (along with Alaska and Washington) to have no minimum residency requirement when filing a divorce. Technically, you can move to South Dakota and file for divorce on the same day.

5. Nevada

It probably comes as no surprise that the state where it’s easiest to apply for a marriage license is also one of the easiest places to get divorced. Nevada isn’t the cheapest place to file your papers, but if you and your spouse have agreed to an uncontested divorce–then it is one of the quickest to complete the process, typically in 1-3 weeks. It only has a 6-week minimum residency requirement before filing for divorce, one of the shortest in the country.

Minimum filing fee: $300-$350

Average attorney fees: $10,000

Minimum waiting period: 7 days

Key fact: Nevada is 1 of 9 community property states, meaning all assets acquired during the marriage are split 50/50 unless you and your spouse have agreed otherwise.

The Top 5 Worst States to Get A Divorce:

1. California

No matter which way you look at it, California is a bad place to get divorced. It has the highest filing fees ($450 at a minimum, and more in some counties such as San Francisco, Riverside, and San Bernardino), highest average attorney fees, and second-longest minimum waiting period. True, Californians generally earn more than other Americans, but divorce costs are exorbitant nevertheless.

Minimum filing fee: $450+

Average attorney fees: $14,000

Minimum waiting period: 183 days (6 months + 1 day)

Key fact: California has an expedited divorce process known as summary dissolution, but it is limited to couples that have been married fewer than 5 years, don’t have any children, have few assets and debts, and meet other strict eligibility requirements.

2. Louisiana

For a state that ranks in the bottom 5 in the US for average income, getting divorced in Louisiana is very expensive. But that’s not even the worst of it. Louisiana also has the longest minimum waiting period to get a divorce in the United States–a full year if you have minor children together.

Minimum filing fee: $250-$400

Average attorney fees: $10,000

Minimum waiting period: 180 days (if no minor children) or 365 days (if minor children)

Key fact: All states have a slight variation in divorce laws, but Louisiana is more different. That’s because its civil laws derive mostly from the 1800 draft of the Napoleonic Code, a throwback to French colonial rule, rather than the English common law system used in the other 49 states.

3. Massachusetts

Like California, we can put the high costs of getting divorced in Massachusetts down to having one of the highest average incomes. It usually doesn’t take long to receive a Judgment of Divorce, but the ‘nisi’ period (see below) means you’ll have to wait a few months before you can move on with your life.

Minimum filing fee: $220+

Average attorney fees: $12,000

Minimum waiting period: 120-150 days (2-4 weeks for hearing plus ‘nisi’ period – see below)

Key fact: Even after a Judgment of Divorce has been issued, the parties remain married for 90-120 days (known as a ‘nisi’ period) before their divorce becomes final. Moreover, Massachusetts has a reputation for having some of the highest alimony rates in the United States. In some cases, alimony awards given by the state's courts can exceed the recipient's actual expenses, creating a challenging situation for the payer to meet their other financial obligations.

4. Connecticut

It’s not quite California or Louisiana, but Connecticut earns a place on our list due to having higher-than-average fees and cooling-off period (in contested cases) than the average state. Like many states, the filing fees in Connecticut can be even higher than the state minimum depending on which county you live.

Minimum filing fee: $185-$360

Average attorney fees: $12,000

Minimum waiting period: 10-90 days

Key fact: Until recently, Connecticut had a mandatory 90-day cooling-off period before you could even file for divorce. However, it recently introduced a new law that allows couples to finalize their divorce within 10 days–if both parties agree to it.

5. Texas

Filing fees vary from county to county, but no matter where you go in Texas it isn’t cheap. The average attorney fees are almost high enough to rival California too. There’s no cooling-off period before you file for divorce, but you will need to wait at least 61 days from the date of filing to have a hearing before a judge.

Minimum filing fee: $262-365

Average attorney fees: $12,000

Minimum waiting period: 61 days

Key fact: Texas is another community property state, so it’s a 50/50 split of all marital assets unless you and your spouse have agreed otherwise.

Additionally, Texas is recognized for its stringent alimony rules. The state rarely grants alimony, only considering spousal maintenance if the spouse seeking support can convincingly demonstrate that they cannot meet their basic reasonable needs or if a specific condition impedes their ability to work.

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Know The Rules in Your State

You don’t have to file for divorce in the state you were married or where your spouse lives. Technically, you can file for divorce in any state, so long as you meet the minimum residency requirements in that state and you can serve the papers to your spouse in the state where they are resident. Therefore, it can be useful to familiarize yourself with the divorce process in your state prior to filing.

Nadav Shemer
Nadav Shemer specializes in business, tech, and energy, with a background in financial journalism, hi-tech and startups. He writes for top10.com where he discusses the latest innovations in financial services and products.