Attorney fees – yikes!

Published April 11, 2019

How much will the attorney fees for my divorce be?  This question is common at the outset of a divorce.  It’s a fair question.  Attorneys are expensive.  Depending on where you live, an attorney’s hourly rate can exceed $400.  Yikes, right?  Unfortunately, I am rarely ever able to answer the question definitively.  This is not because I am trying to hide something.  In fact, it is the opposite. 

Variables impact fees

When I am asked to estimate the attorney fees for a divorce, I lay out all the variables that will have an impact.  Some of these variables include:

  • The complexity of the issues in dispute
  • The contention or conflict between the parties
  • The process option chosen by the parties (ie. litigation, mediation, collaborative divorce, etc.)
  • The other attorney involved (yep, sadly)

Get a clear understanding

Attorney fees add up.  I’ve had divorce cases where the fees were under $2,000 and other cases where the fees have exceeded $200,000.  Consequently, it is very important that you have a clear understanding of how the attorney charges for his or her services and what else may be your responsibility to pay for like copies or postage.

Ask questions

Make sure you ask about the attorney’s fees and costs in the initial consultation.  It is appropriate for you to pay for the initial consultation because you should be receiving substantive information and advice relevant to your circumstances.  Some lawyers charge a flat fee for an initial consultation and you should know what the fee is before you show up for the appointment.  Likewise, you should walk away from the initial consultation knowing what the monetary requirements will be if you decide to retain the attorney to assist you with your divorce process. 

Get it in writing

Most attorneys require a retainer or fee deposit which is an upfront monetary deposit that you pay to the attorney to engage him or her to provide professional services.  In addition to the retainer or fee deposit, you may pay for professional services provided to you at regular or monthly intervals.  All monetary requirements, billing procedures and details regarding hourly rates and costs should be set forth in a written fee, engagement or professional services agreement. You should receive the written agreement at the commencement of your attorney/client relationship.

In summary, the total attorney fees incurred in a divorce can vary a lot.  Know the variables and do not be afraid to ask your attorney questions about fees and costs.