Divorce proceedings are costly, no matter how simple the case. There are filing fees, court costs, and costs associated with hiring outside experts, such as a child custody evaluator. And of course, there are costs associated with hiring an attorney to represent you and handle your case. It is important to understand what to expect, to make the process as low stress as possible.
What will it cost to hire a divorce attorney? Simply put, it varies. There are several factors that affect the overall cost of a divorce, and each attorney sets their own prices and fees. It is important to consider that when you are paying an attorney, you are paying them to perform several tasks, and you are paying them for an undertaking that will last anywhere from four to eleven months.
Some examples of the aspects an attorney will address are:
- The division of debts and assets;
- Setting the terms for child support and custody, if necessary; and
- Conducting research to gather supporting evidence
These are just a few examples of what is covered by an attorney’s fees. Most divorce attorneys will charge a flat fee or an hourly rate, depending on the case. A flat fee can cost you between $900 and $6,000, again depending on the nature and complexity of your case.
It is not necessarily true that a flat fee payment structure is considered “discounted” services; it simply means the attorney has narrowed down exactly what needs to be done and are confident that they can handle the case easily.
Experienced divorce attorneys have a pretty good idea of how much work will need to be done, just after the initial consultation. Some of what may go into a case includes:
- Appearances, such as representing you in court;
- Mediation, whether conducting the mediation themselves or representing a side in the mediation session;
- Filing the appropriate motions;
- Defending the appropriate motions in court;
- Conducting depositions;
- Contacting and hiring experts;
- Being present during evaluations, such as those conducted by a professional child custody evaluator; or
- Representing you in a trial, if necessary. This includes presenting evidence and arguments.
As you can see, it makes sense in the majority of causes to calculate these costs and charge a flat fee as opposed to hourly. However, if different circumstances arise, an attorney may need to tack on other fees to the flat fee.
The attorney will more than likely finish their work under the initial flat fee, then offer another fixed, flat fee to address the unexpected issues. Either way, the client should not be surprised by the billing, especially if there was an aspect or circumstance that was not initially mentioned.
Hourly rates also vary based on the experience of the attorney. Generally, an attorney will charge $200-$400 an hour for their time. They might also require a retainer, typically around $5,000. Due to the expensive nature of this structure, it is most often utilized when the parties are contesting several issues, there is a large state in need of division, or there are several other complicated divorce questions.
With some notable exceptions, each party is responsible for their own attorney’s fees. A court may order one party to pay the other’s fees in cases of a large gap in the financial statuses of the parties, for example.
Generally, attorney’s fees are not tax deductible. The exception to this is if the attorney charges to collect alimony or child support, or if the attorney gives tax related advice in relation to the divorce case. These can be claimed so long as the attorney keeps these hours separately accounted for.
The overall simplicity of a divorce case is what essentially determines the cost of the overall divorce. There are several factors, but the most common are:
- Contested vs. Uncontested: An uncontested divorce, or one in which both parties agree on the terms of divorce, is the least expensive course of action. There are fewer court costs, and attorneys will have less to work on that would require you paying them for their time.
- A contested divorce, or one in which the parties refuse to agree to terms upfront, will be costly and drawn out. Although there are legitimate reasons to contest a divorce, an uncontested divorce is the least costly option;
- Net Worth: The more that one party owns, the more that needs value determination. This might require the work of an appraiser, forensic accountant, or other analyst to determine the value of these assets. Obviously, that will cost each party;
- Children: If there are children involved, custody and child support arrangements will need to be made. This means more time in court and more hours spent on your case, which add to costs.
- Some cases require the deposition or testifying of experts, psychological evaluations, or child custody evaluations; and
- Assorted Costs: These are determined based on assets, and if children are involved. For example, a judge may order the parents to take a parenting class before custody can be assigned.
- Further, if real estate is involved, refinancing and recording deeds make the process more expensive. Additionally, lawyers typically charge a higher fee in divorce cases where property or children are highly contested.
Remember, do not hide anything or hold any information back from your attorney. What you might consider “irrelevant” could actually be extremely relevant and important for your case. Being completely honest with your attorney as to the nature of your situation can help your estimated costs be as accurate as possible.
However, even then there may be circumstances that were not foreseeable. Maybe the process was delayed due to tied up resources, a dispute over something you did not anticipate (like arguing about who gets the antique salt and pepper shakers), or perhaps the divorce becomes more heated and emotions run high.
It’s important to expect the unexpected in situations like divorce. While the process can be messy, opting for steps like mediation and keeping it as amicable and civil as possible can make the process go quicker and cheaper.
The cost of divorce can rise quickly, and attorney’s fees are clearly a large portion of those costs. However, the work a knowledgeable and qualified divorce lawyer does is well worth the cost.
They will file necessary paperwork, represent you in the case, and ensure you are aware of every potential new cost. Additionally, they can assess which fee structure is the best for your case, and help you understand exactly what you are paying for.