Family law refers to the branch of the legal field that deals with issues relating to domestic relationships. Thus, a family law attorney is an attorney that specializes in family law, as opposed to other branches of the legal field.
Some of the most common subjects covered by family law include:
- Divorce and Marriage: This includes prenuptial agreements, divorce, spousal support, division of property,and domestic violence issues. This may also include matters related to civil unions and domestic partnerships, claims for reimbursement for marital expenses, non-marital agreements, and annulment procedures;
- Issues Involving Children: This includes child custody, child support, adoption, child abuse, and child neglect. This may also include paternity testing and fraud related to paternity testing; and
- Other Family Law Issues: This includes emancipation, “Power of Attorney,” estate matters, inheritance laws, and name changes.
As you can see, family law attorneys are able to practice several different types of law under the family law umbrella. Most attorneys do practice the spectrum of legal matters associated with family law as a whole.
However, some attorneys who practice family law choose to specialize even further. For example, some attorneys will specialize in adoptions, while others may solely focus on divorce and other related issues.
Many factors go into determining what a family law attorney costs, such as geographical location and the level of experience the attorney has. This amount will vary significantly, although a family law attorney generally charges $250 per hour. However, it is important to understand the different pricing structures utilized by attorneys, and what those legal fees generally cover.
Hourly rates are the most common fee structure utilized by attorneys. Under this structure, the attorney charges based on the amount of hours they have spent working on your case. Flat fees are an overall charge paid up front, and cover the entirety of your legal representation.
A retainer fee is somewhat like a down payment that is generally added to an hourly fee structure. The client deposits the retainer fee into the attorney’s account, and the attorney deducts from this fee as services are completed.
Attorney’s fees might be adjusted based on the level of representation they provide. Some examples of legal representation include:
- A simple consultation in which the attorney listens to the issue and offers some initial advice (some initial consultations are free of charge);
- Limited representation in which the attorney will only handle certain aspects of the case. For example in a divorce case, the attorney may only handle the actual divorce itself but will not handle child custody or visitation matters; or
- Full representation in which the attorney handles all aspects involved in the case from start to finish.
An attorney’s fees will often cover legal services such as advice, time, resources, and research, in addition to their representation of you. Attorneys with a high level of success and many years of experience may charge an excess of $650 an hour, but may be able to complete your case in less time than a less experienced attorney.
On the other hand, newer or less experienced attorneys may charge as little as $50 per hour, but it may take them several more hours to complete the case. Regardless of experience and hourly rate, the cost will increase with the amount of time the attorney spends on your case.
In addition to attorney’s fees, you may be expected to cover certain expenses associated with your case. Some examples of these expenses include:
- Filing fees;
- Court reported and expert witness charges, if necessary; and
- Travel and transportation charges, within reason.
Before hiring an attorney, you should discuss all money matters with them to ensure you are on the same page and are not taken by surprise when presented with the bill. Any attorney should be willing to openly discuss their fee structure, as well as provide explanations of additional fees and expenses not covered by the attorney’s fees.
As previously mentioned, you can expect to pay more the longer your case takes to resolve. The length of time to resolve a family dispute really depends on the specific issue at hand. Many family law issues can often be resolved outside of court, but going to court adds to the amount of time it will take to resolve a dispute.
For example, a simple divorce usually takes around ten months to resolve, on average. However, that time could increase if any part of the divorce is contested or otherwise complicated. Cases involving a marriage or civil union may only take a few weeks of the attorney’s time, which would include preparing the necessary documentation.
As can be seen, family law attorneys handle a wide range of issues, and have knowledge of various state and federal family laws. Further they often interact and have connections with other people and agencies involved in common family law legal situations, such as child protective services.
Thus, if you have a family law issue, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable and well qualified family law attorney in your area. An experienced family law attorney will be able to advise you on your best legal course of action, and represent you in court, if necessary.