In over 25 years that I’ve been practicing divorce law, the most asked question at the very beginning of a consultation is “how much is this going to cost?“ As frequent as this question is asked, this is the most difficult question to answer for many reasons that I will explain.
First, let’s discuss the pricing model that most divorce lawyers use. That is the hourly rate model. Most attorneys charge an hourly rate anywhere from $250.00 to $1,000.00 per hour. Attorneys will bill in increments of six minutes or tenths of an hour and the client will be billed for any time the attorney, paralegals, and legal assistants touch the file. For example, the client will be billed for phone calls, email, text messaging, conferences between inter-office staff, court time, and document preparation. The client will be asked to make a sizable down payment otherwise known as a retainer deposit anywhere from $1500-$15,000 and up.
Variables that drive the cost of a divorce
- Anger: The anger of the parties is the driving force that would make your divorce very costly. If just one party is angry, for example, their spouse cheated on them, that angry spouse is not going to be in a reasonable state of mind and push for things that are totally unreasonable. For example, the spouse who was cheated on will want the house even though that spouse is only entitled to half the value.
- Timesharing (custody/visitation): Another factor in the total cost of a divorce is whether the couple can agree to a timesharing schedule, also known as custody and visitation. Many times, parents use children as a pawn in a divorce in order to leverage something else. For example, one party may accuse the other party of being a bad parent in an attempt to get more money in alimony. Or, the classic example is where one spouse demands to have 50/50 overnights when, in fact, because of the travel burdens of his or her job, (s)he can only have 25% overnights. The number of overnights is a factor in the amount of child support one pays. Therefore, the more overnights you have, the less money in child support that you will pay.
- Alimony: Another driving factor is fighting over alimony. It’s not unusual that one spouse does not want to pay another spouse money after divorce so they will fight tooth and nail not to pay spousal support when, in fact, the law would require it.
- Discovery Disputes: Discovery is where you are required to exchange financial information and documents. That is where one party does not want to turn over bank records, credit card statements or tax returns to the other party and tries to hide information. When an attorney is forced to go to court to force the non-complying spouse to provide the information, legal fees will escalate.
- Equitable Distribution or Division of Assets: Another area that would drive legal fees would be equitable distribution or dividing the assets of the parties. The expectations of the parties need to be realistic. If not, or there is a lot of anger, dividing assets of the marriage will drive legal fees greatly. Remember, you do not want to pay an attorney $5,000.00 to argue for an asset that is only worth $2,00.00.
Unfortunately, some people only focus on the hourly rate, the initial deposit or both with the goal of finding the cheapest lawyer, therefore sacrificing security and peace of mind of you and your children which inevitably leads to fear and regret. You only have one chance to get it right, so be sure that the decision to hire an attorney does not rest solely on price. Remember, there are no do-overs in a court of law.