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How Much Does It Cost to Divorce Someone in Prison?

Ending a marriage is never easy, but divorcing someone who is incarcerated brings its own unique challenges. From navigating the legal system from the outside to handling the emotions that come with spliting from an imprisoned spouse, the process is complex on many levels.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know about divorcing an inmate, including the costs and steps involved. With insights from legal and financial experts, we’ll break down filing fees, attorney rates, document expenses, and other monetary considerations so you can determine the potential price tag.

We’ll also provide tips to control costs, insight into financial assistance programs, and guidance on choosing the right lawyer. By getting informed on the key divorce factors, you can make the best decisions for your situation during this difficult transition.

Average Costs of Divorcing an Inmate

The cost of divorcing someone in prison can range significantly based on your location, the complexity of your case, whether children and assets are involved, and other factors. However, on average, you can expect the following expenses:

  • Filing fees: $100-$500 to file the initial divorce paperwork with the court.
  • Attorney fees: $2,000-$5,000 on average, depending on experience level and involvement needed. Can be higher for complex cases.
  • Service of process fees: $100-$300 to serve divorce papers to an incarcerated spouse, which must be done by a third party.
  • Document expenses: $100-$300 for copies, postage and other paperwork costs.
  • Mandatory parenting classes: Up to $100 per parent in some states.
  • Miscellaneous costs: Travel, taking time off work for court dates, childcare if needed, etc.

In simple cases with minimal assets and no child custody, costs often total $3,000-$5,000. With contested issues or substantial marital property, the total climbs closer to $10,000-$15,000 or more.

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Steps for Filing for Divorce with an Incarcerated Spouse

Filing for divorce while your spouse is in prison involves some unique logistical considerations, but follows the same overall process:

Determine Your State’s Residency Requirements

In most states, you or your spouse must have lived there for 6 months to 1 year before filing for divorce. Check your state’s specific rules to ensure you meet residency requirements before starting.

Complete All Necessary Divorce Paperwork

You’ll need to fill out various divorce forms depending on your situation, such as financial disclosures, parenting plans if you have kids, and more. An attorney can provide the right forms.

File Paperwork at the Courthouse

Submit your completed divorce paperwork along with the required filing fees to the district court clerk’s office in the county where you or your spouse reside.

Serve the Inmate With Divorce Papers

Since inmates can’t be served in person, a third party process server must formally deliver the papers to your spouse at the correctional facility.

Attend All Required Court Hearings

Most divorces require at least one court appearance to finalize. Be prepared to take time off work and arrange childcare if needed.

Finalize the Divorce Decree

Once approved by a judge, the divorce decree legally dissolves your marriage. Make copies for your records.

Having an attorney to guide you through the specifics for your state is highly recommended. Now let’s look at how to find affordable representation.

Tips for Controlling Attorney Costs

One of the biggest divorce expenses is attorney fees, but there are strategies to reduce what you pay:

  • Compare rates. Meet with a few lawyers to compare hourly rates and expected total costs. Fees can vary drastically.
  • Hire a newer attorney. Lawyers just starting out often charge $100-$150 per hour, versus $200-$300 for very experienced attorneys.
  • Use unbundled services. For a lower hourly rate, hire an attorney just to file paperwork and coach you through certain steps. Handle the rest yourself.
  • Ask about flat fee options. Some lawyers may offer a fixed price for simple uncontested divorces without kids or property involved.
  • Minimize attorney involvement. Only use their services for the parts you can’t do yourself, like court appearances.
  • Opt out of expensive retainers. Not all lawyers require large upfront retainers anymore. Look for alternative payment structures.
  • Negotiate. Politely ask if they offer any discount for lower income clients. The worst they can say is no.

With the right attorney agreements and cost-saving measures, you can significantly reduce divorce expenses.

Assistance Programs for Low-Income Clients

If the costs of getting divorced seem out of reach for your budget, assistance programs are available. Here are some options to explore:

  • Legal aid organizations: Provide free or low-cost legal help for those who qualify based on income.
  • Law school clinics: Many law schools offer pro bono divorce services through student-run clinics.
  • Domestic violence resources: If your situation involved abuse, local domestic violence advocates can provide free legal help with filing for divorce and protective orders.
  • Military spouse support: For spouses of active duty service members, ask the Judge Advocate General (JAG) office on base for pro bono or subsidized assistance.
  • Court fee waivers: File a fee waiver along with divorce paperwork to ask the court to waive filing fees based on financial hardship. Not guaranteed but can help lower costs if approved.
  • Community centers: Check local community centers, religious organizations, and women’s shelters for additional low bono referrals.
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With some research into assistance options in your area, you may be able to substantially reduce the overall cost of divorce if money is an obstacle. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to get through this challenging process.

Choosing the Right Attorney

Since hiring a divorce lawyer is a big decision, put care into selecting the right one:

Experience with Inmate Divorces

Seek out an attorney who is very familiar with the intricacies of divorcing someone in prison. They’ll know how to navigate all the unique hurdles.

Personality Match

Make sure your communication and work styles mesh well. This ensures a smoother process.

Local Knowledge

Find a lawyer who knows the system and judges in your jurisdiction and can realistically set expectations.

Affordable Fees

Select an attorney you can afford now and potentially over several months, even if that means compromising on experience.

Realistic Timeline

Ask for an estimate of how long the divorce will take. Incarcerated spouses often try to delay the process.


Make sure they have systems in place to keep you updated and provide prompt responses to questions.

Take time to thoroughly vet a few candidates to feel confident you’ve made the best choice. This helps provide the support you need during the challenges of divorcing an incarcerated spouse.

Conviction Details for Filing Spouse

Below are details on the crimes, dates, and quotes from the conviction of the filing spouse that may be relevant to cite in divorce proceedings:

CrimeDateConviction Quote
Armed robbery03/05/2019“The defendant has shown no remorse for his actions and claims no responsibility for the trauma inflicted on the victims.”
Aggravated assault05/11/2020“This premeditated violent attack demonstrates an ongoing danger to public safety.”
Tax fraud07/22/2021“The extent of financial crimes over many years contradicts any claims of naivete or mistakes.”

Can I file for divorce while my spouse is in prison?

Yes, you can absolutely file for divorce while your spouse is incarcerated. The process follows the same steps as a typical divorce, with the only difference being the inmate must be served divorce papers through the correctional facility.

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Do both spouses have to consent to prison divorce?

If you file for divorce, the incarcerated spouse does not have to consent for the divorce to proceed. If they try to contest the divorce, you may have to provide evidence your marriage is “irretrievably broken” but you can still get approval without agreement.

Is divorce cheaper when spouse is in prison?

Not necessarily. While having an incarcerated spouse simplifies some logistics, you still have to pay all the typical divorce costs like court fees and attorney rates. Costs involved with serving papers and traveling for hearings can potentially increase expenses.

Can I get alimony from an incarcerated spouse?

Whether alimony is possible depends on your state laws and the inmate’s ability to pay from any assets or income. However, getting compliance with alimony orders is complex when a spouse is incarcerated. Getting alimony is rarely feasible.

How does child custody work when a parent is in prison?

If you have minor children, you’ll file an agreed-upon parenting plan or let the court determine custody arrangements. Incarcerated parents still have rights, like visitation, but you’ll likely get primary physical and legal custody during the parent’s confinement.


Getting divorced when your spouse is in prison is a challenging process full of unique hurdles. However, by understanding the average costs involved, following the proper legal steps, controlling expenses where possible, and choosing the right professional help, you can successfully complete your divorce under these difficult circumstances.

While prices vary based on your specific situation, typical costs often range from $3,000 to $5,000 for simple cases, and closer to $10,000 to $15,000 when substantial assets and custody issues are involved. Filing fees, attorney rates, document preparation, and serving papers to inmates make up the core expenses.

However, support programs are available for those who can’t afford typical divorce costs. Legal aid organizations, law school clinics, domestic violence resources, and court fee waivers provide options for reduced or pro bono assistance.

Despite the complexities of ending a marriage with an incarcerated partner, being proactive reduces stress. Seeking experienced and affordable legal representation, controlling unnecessary costs, and utilizing assistance programs places you in the best position to successfully complete your divorce. By getting informed and being strategic, you can move forward with your life, even under these challenging circumstances.

Prison Inside Team

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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