Divorce and Legal Fees
DIVORCE AND LEGAL FEES
How Much Will the Divorce Cost
It is difficult to determine how much a divorce will cost. However, after reviewing the likely issues, your method for resolving those issues, and hearing your philosophy of the case, a lawyer may be able to give you a range of expected expenses. Controlling the expenses in a divorce, however, is no easy task. Many of the factors contributing to legal costs are outside of your lawyer’s control. The personality and philosophy of your spouse’s attorney can affect the ultimate path that your divorce takes. Additionally, the ability of the parties to cooperate and communicate may also have a significant impact.
Written Retainer Agreements
Your attorney is required to provide you with a written retainer agreement identifying the costs and hourly fees that will apply to your case. It is important that you read this document carefully and ask questions regarding any unclear issues. Signing a retainer agreement does not mean that you cannot fire your lawyer or that your lawyer cannot withdraw from the case. You may change lawyers at any time. The retainer agreement, however, will memorialize the terms of your billing relationship with the attorney. Once you have signed the retainer agreement, it is a legally binding and enforceable contract. Always keep a copy of your retainer agreement for later reference.
Fees charged by lawyers can vary from state to state and county to county. You may find a lawyer who charges a fixed flat fee for motions after a divorce or for uncontested proceedings where the parties have reached an agreement. In such instances, the amount of work which must be performed by the lawyer can be easily determined. This is a favorable payment method since you will know at the outset the total cost of the proceeding which will allow you to budget accordingly.
In most contested cases, you will find that lawyers will bill out their time at an hourly rate. Although rates vary, you may expect your lawyer to bill out services at an hourly rate between $75 and $250 per hour. Reduced hourly rates may apply to services that are performed by associate attorneys, paralegals, law clerks or legal assistants in your attorney’s office. Hourly rates are influenced by your attorney’s legal experience, reputation and the demand for his/her services.
Lawyers may also charge minimum fees for specific services that are billed out as part of the divorce proceeding. For example, drafting a Motion or a Petitioner may be billed out at a flat rate of $200. You should discuss with your lawyer any minimum fees that may be applicable to your case.
Minimum Billing Increments
Your lawyer may also bill out services based on a minimum billing increment. For example, your lawyer may bill out his or her time in twelve minute increments or two tenths of an hour. That means for any service no matter how short, the lawyers time is rounded up to the nearest twelve minute increment.
In addition to your legal fees, you may be required to pay any costs that are incurred by your lawyer that are associated with your case. Costs may included charges for any filing fees, copies, mileage, faxing, service of papers, postage and parking. It is important for you to review and understand the costs that you are likely to incur.
You may also be required to cover any costs related to necessary experts. Experts may be used to provide medical testimony or appraisals of real estate, business assets or personal property. Independent custody evaluators may be hired to perform a custody study or vocational experts may be necessary to determine what financial support is necessary. The need for experts depends greatly on the issues of your case. You should consult with your lawyer regarding the potential need for experts in your case and an estimate of the costs.
Your attorney may request a “retainer fee”. This is an advance payment against which any hourly fees and/or costs are assessed. The retainer is a form of security deposit to ensure payment of future legal fees.
Most lawyers will require you to remain current on your legal fees. The reason for this, is that each month the lawyer must pay offices expenses related to rent, payroll, advertising and other overhead. Some attorneys may even require a new retainer when the original retainer is exhausted. If you are unable to remain current, you do have options that can be discussed with your lawyer.
Security for Fees
You may secure your legal fees by providing a lien against a marital or non-marital asset. Be sure to review any agreements related to security interests carefully. Moreover, if a security interests relates to real estate, it is necessary for your attorney to inform you that you have the right to have the agreement reviewed by separate counsel.
You may also suggest to your attorney a wage assignment which ensures a consistent monthly payment toward your legal fees.
Most law offices will accept credit card payments. _______________________________________________________________
Reprinted with permission of the Beaulier Law Firm.