How much will my divorce cost?
If you are involved in, or contemplating, a divorce there are probably many uncertainties causing you anxiety and anguish. The cost of legal fees are often times among these uncertainties.
Attorneys are known for being non-committal when it comes to the subject of fees. In fact, one of the first things many of us learned in law school was that the answer to many legal questions is "it depends." But to be fair to lawyers, divorces have wide variances and each one truly is unique, so it is often impossible to forecast exactly how much a divorce, or even a custody action or child support case, will cost. Costs for many legal procedures such as incorporation or a will can be closely estimated because the client is in full control of the decision-making process. In a divorce or custody action, the opposing party (and sometimes his counsel) may decide to file motions, seek discovery or continuances, argue over points that should be easily settled, and just be generally hostile and uncooperative. This adds many dimensions of uncertainty to how much time, money, and emotion will be expended to settle the matter. These uncertainties are why the most common method of billing used in such cases is the billable hour. On one hand, paying by the hour may seem daunting as there is not a hard and fast amount that you know will be your maximum cost. On the other hand, however, you are billed only for what the costs of your case really are, instead of being quoted a large fee, which may or may not be necessary to handle your case. When hiring an attorney by the billable hour, it is of paramount importance to choose someone whom you can fully trust to maximize his or her effort while billing fair and transparent hours.
WHAT ABOUT THE ADS FOR "$299 DIVORCE"?
Those ads that you see on Craigslist or in the paper are typically for filing an uncontested divorce where the parties agree on everything and there are not property division or custody issues to determine. If this is your situation, then a $299 divorce may work for you. Better yet, you may be able to file your own paperwork and handle your divorce by yourself. Many courts have packages of forms and clerks willing to help a pro se party file simple domestic actions. Keep in mind, however, that an absolute divorce finally settles all of the issues resulting from your marriage. Property division, custody and visitation, alimony and support are all potential issues to be settled. You should understand all of your legal rights prior to agreeing to a final settlement as you will not get a second chance to protect them. This is what I typically discuss with clients at an initial consultation.
HOW CAN I MINIMIZE MY LEGAL FEES?
The main reason divorces can be expensive is that they take lots of time. The horrible divorce stories that you hear about costing ridiculous amounts of money are usually because they take months or even years to fight through. The more you can agree on with your ex, the better off you are and the less you will have to pay your attorney to fight for you. Even if you have one item that you just cannot come to terms with, such as custody or visitation, you can put all items that you do agree on into a separation agreement and then only litigate the contested item, streamlining the process and saving a great deal of money in the process.
I believe in negotiation. I have negotiated over one hundred million dollars worth of contracts deals, and settlements and I encourage my clients and their adversaries to attempt to negotiate their differences whenever possible. Divorce negotiations are often difficult as there may be hurt, anger, and other negative emotions at play on both sides. I counsel my clients to try to separate emotions from the goals that we are trying to accomplish to allow them to make clear and rational decisions that are in their best long-term interests. Whether achieved through face to face negotiations, counsel to counsel negotiations, or mediation, a separation agreement that you can live with is almost always better than going to court. In negotiation or mediation, you maintain control of your divorce and the issues therein. Once they are submitted to the court, that control is lost and your future is placed in the hands of the judge. Additionally, negotiation and/or mediation is typically less expensive than going to court. Some attorneys seem to take a fighting stance at the outset of every case. I do not believe that serves the best interests of my clients and while sometimes there is no alternative to battling it out, attempting to negotiate is usually a good option.
Check out my page on initial consultations here to see how I can help you to understand your rights, options, and how you may want to proceed in your present or anticipated divorce.