Law Office of Barry L. Brody
The exact attorney’s fees you can expect to pay for a divorce vary greatly. A basic, uncontested divorce (where both parties agree to all issues) still includes the preparation and filing of numerous documents. While this is the least expensive means to a divorce, these fees can still run into the thousands of dollars, plus court fees and costs.
Contested divorces have virtually no limit as to their attorney’s fees and costs. Discovery (subpoenas, depositions, interrogatories) is very expensive, expert witnesses charge independently, business and real estate evaluations can run into the thousands of dollars, and child custody matters can be exceptionally expensive. Most attorneys and experts bill by the hour, and the more time they invest in your case, the more expensive it will be.
Most attorneys will require that a retainer fee or advanced fee be paid. In many cases, these fees will need to be replenished on a regular basis (usually after an attorney bills). At times, a specific trial retainer will be necessary if the case is proceeding to trial. The client is initially responsible for their own attorney’s fees, however, under certain circumstances, the judge can assess part or all of these fees against the other party. For more information, see "Choosing A Divorce Attorney," below.
The court charges both parties a filing fee. If depositions, subpoenas, investigations, evaluations, and the like, are necessary, those costs, which are at times significant, are generally paid by the party seeking the item or service. Under certain conditions, these costs may be reallocated to the other party at the discretion of the judge.
It is impossible for one attorney to ethically represent both parties in a divorce action. There is an inherent conflict of interest in these situations. While it is not necessary for both parties to have attorneys, it is usually preferable. Your attorney cannot give legal advice to your unrepresented spouse, although they are bound to deal fairly with them.
Your divorce attorney is the expert you will rely on to help you make the best decisions about your case, and provide you the means toward the end whether by settlement or litigation. The attorney can be involved in every aspect of your case, or hired to work with you on a limited basis (for example, to merely draft settlement documents, or attend specific court appearances with you). The relationship, however, is usually lengthy and complex.
How you hire your divorce attorney should be more than doing a simple Google search. Similarly, hiring the lawyer that helped you negotiate your business lease or draft your Will could be an equally large mistake. Here are several key elements to look for in a divorce attorney:
It is generally every attorney’s preference to resolve a case without litigation. In fact, most Family Law attorneys are settlement driven, and will seek every viable alternative available to avoid litigation.
Your attorney may talk to you about "alternative" means to resolve your case such as mediation or the use of a Family Law Master. Mediation allows the two parties to attempt to resolve their case by settlement and agreement. A Family Law Master acts as a quasi judge to resolve cases in a much less formal atmosphere than a courtroom.
As a general rule, alternative methods often cost less to resolve your case. A time-table can be set and maintained by the parties rather than the court, and in many cases, the divorce process will take less time. Because these proceedings are less formal, they are less stressful, and more apt to not have the typical fallout, anger and frustration that results from litigation.
Everyone has well-meaning friends and relatives who will offer advice about anything, including your divorce case. In most instances, this advice is not accurate, does not apply to your situation and/or does little other than to inflame the situation. The facts surrounding your marriage, and divorce, and its particulars, are unique to you, and it is virtually impossible to compare one divorce to another. It usually makes sense to take this type of advice with a grain of salt.
While talking to friends and family members can be beneficial, and provide alternative insight to your thought process, you should devote your energies to reading books and articles from more learned individuals that have greater experience. You should also rely on your attorney's wisdom and guidance.
Try to keep an open line of communication with your spouse, and more importantly, maintain a professional and courteous relationship with them. One thing that is for certain, without this, animosity and hostility will escalate, and this will do little other than cost a great deal of money and aggravation.
You must be prepared to share details about your personal life, marriage and finances. Therefore, you must feel comfortable with whomever represents you. In addition, your attorney should share and support your basic philosophy or attitude toward your divorce. For example, if you want to keep things as calm, cooperative and non-adversarial as possible, then avoid attorneys who like to “go for the jugular.”
Do not confuse your attorney with your therapist or religious advisor. While your attorney may be “street smart” and informed from their years of experience, they are not sufficiently trained to replace experts in the area. While talking to the attorney can be helpful, enlightening and soothing, it is not a substitute for professional help that you may need.