The question that almost every attorney is guaranteed to hear is “how much is this going to cost me?” Of course, this question is more than understandable and justified. Unfortunately, the answer is rarely simple, and in the family lawcontext, the legal fees range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. A variety of factors impact the amount of the overall cost, but a discussion of just two of the main considerations may be helpful in planning for this additional financial obligation.
1. Complexity of the issues
While this may be self-evident, not every divorce is created equal. A divorce that involves only the dissolution of the parties’ status as married persons (a “simple” divorce) is far less expensive than a divorce that also involves alimony,custody, child support, equitable distribution, special relief and spousal support issues (a “complex” divorce).
A simple divorce is a largely logistical process, whereby the attorney’s main role is to prepare, file and serve the paperwork necessary to obtain the divorce decree; this generally involves knowledge of the state and local rules of civil procedure, and the manner in which same are applied in practice. With respect to such divorces, there likely is minimal interaction between the attorney and the client, simply because there is not much for the attorney to manage aside from the paperwork.
On the other hand, a complex divorce requires an attorney’s consistent involvement for purposes of managing the case. This participation oftentimes includes almost daily client and opposing party/counsel contact, preparation and filing of various complaints/petitions/briefs/memoranda as issues arise, attendance in court with respect to scheduled conferences/hearings, and so forth.
Ultimately, the more you need an attorney to do on your behalf, the greater the cost, which is why attorneys set retainer fees after the initial consultation. Before that time, it is impossible to guess as to the extent of work that will be necessary to get started and to manage the case in the initial stages.
2. Relations between the parties
To a significant extent, the respective parties are the ones who are responsible for the final legal bill. Attorneys work for their clients, and the clients ultimately dictate what is to be done on the case. Therefore, even if one or both attorneys advise the parties to reach a settlement on an issue, a settlement may be impossible due to hostility or lack of cooperation on behalf of one or both parties.
When parties are amicable, they can work together and accomplish a substantial amount without the involvement of their attorneys, getting counsel involved only when necessary to draw up settlement agreements, etc. This results in less cost for both parties. It is when parties must perform all communication through attorneys, and/or litigate all issues, that costs increase exponentially. Therefore, even though it may be difficult, it is advisable to remain on speaking terms with your spouse whenever it is possible, and provided that extenuating circumstances do not prohibit such interaction.
If your divorce is becoming more expensive than you anticipated, it is likely the result of one or both of the above two factors. For instance, you may have thought you had an agreement with your spouse, but when it came down to drawing up the corresponding document, there was a fundamental disagreement about how certain terms would be worded. Or alternatively, you thought your spouse would comply with the basics of the divorce process, but merely obtaining service of the divorce complaint or basic discovery required court intervention. That said and the reasons acknowledged, the increased cost poses a concern regardless of the underlying reason. Ultimately, it is most important to communicate with your attorney and make sure that you understand why the costs are increasing the way they are, and also to discuss ways to mitigate the costs, wherever possible.