How Much are Divorce Attorney Fees and is It Worth the Investment?
If you are considering filing for divorce or were served with divorce papers, the immediate concern is often ‘how much will this cost’? And any competent attorney who can provide you with good results will tell you ‘it depends’.’ So, let’s consider what that phrase means.
What will you pay the divorce attorney?
An attorney is paid for his or her time. Traditionally, law firms have charged clients by the hour. You would be billed for whatever time the attorney spent on your case. In West Michigan, average hourly attorney fee rates range from $200 to $600 per hour. Factors that determine an attorney’s rate include experience and expertise. Attorneys customarily bill for all time spent on a case, including phone calls, emails, preparation of pleadings, and court attendance.
In addition to the attorney’s time, you may also have to pay court costs and third-party fees, such as expert fees. Such fees range from a few hundred dollars for filing fees to $2,000-$10,000 or more per expert. Not every case requires an expert, and an experienced family law attorney can explain during your initial consultation if you require an expert.
What is a retainer?
Most attorneys will require a retainer to start work. The retainer is an initial payment you make before services begin. It is important to ask your attorney if the retainer is refundable or non-refundable. If the retainer is refundable, any unused portion of your retainer is returned to you when the work is finished. A retainer is not a flat fee or a total fee that you pay for your divorce. You may want to ask your attorney for an estimate for your divorce’s total cost, which likely will be a range and in excess of your retainer. While your attorney may be able to give you a range of possible costs, it is difficult for an attorney to assess the exact cost of a divorce because things can change during litigation that may make a difference in your attorney fees.
Are there other options?
Another alternative is a flat fee divorce. Basically, it’s just that: you pay a flat fee for a divorce. Our firm provides two flat fee plans: a budget-friendly flat fee for an uncontested divorce or a flat fee paid in quarterly installments and which is meant to be a budgeting tool for our clients so that they know what their litigation costs will be. A flat fee divorce might not work for all divorce; you can discuss if a flat fee divorce is a viable option for you during your consultation.
The Top Five Things That Make a Divorce Expensive.
Refuse to Participate in Mediation and Settlement.
Mediation is an effective tool to get disputes resolved. A mediator can employ two rooms to avoid contact with your ex and provide realistic expectations for both of you to expect if your case goes to trial. Settlement costs are minor compared to proceeding to trial.
Inexperienced Family Law Attorney.
Family law is a field that benefits from having experience. When your case is presented to the judge, it should be based on Michigan law, Michigan Court Rules, and Rules of Evidence. If your attorney lacks experience and must research most of your issues, your overall cost will increase significantly compared to an experienced attorney specializing in family law. Additionally, and maybe more importantly, your attorney should prepare and present your case knowing the judge assigned to your case. An experienced family law attorney can present you with an estimate of what to expect regarding the court system and the divorce process.
Unnecessary Calls and Work.
Your attorney is not your therapist. Before you call your attorney about your spouse’s latest poor behavior, consider what you want to accomplish. If you are (understandably) frustrated, a therapist can give effective advice, which is also more cost-efficient. Alternatively, note the incident in a journal, which you can from time to time share with your attorney and save the cost of multiple phone calls.
Your attorney is not your personal assistant. If you move, notify the firm’s assistant, not your attorney. If you need to produce documents or answer a discovery request, do the requested leg work yourself. Answer each question thoroughly, even if you believe your attorney can look up the information in the file.
Fighting for the Sake of Fighting.
We get it. You are hurt. And we understand that it’s fulfilling to have a judge acknowledge the wrongs that were done to you. However, after nearly three decades of practicing law, we usually see that clients do not derive much satisfaction from taking the case to trial. You will not receive much vindication through the legal process. Some cases need to be taken to trial to get a good result; some cases need to be taken to trial because the opposing party is unreasonable. Taking a case to trial to be vindicated is an expensive pursuit.
Do-It-Yourself and Make One or More Mistakes.
Without a doubt, the most expensive cases occur when clients think they’ll save some money by starting the proceedings on their own or even complete the entire divorce on their own. When terms of the Judgment need to be implemented, reality usually hits. Sometimes it’s impossible to fix the mistakes, and consequences may alter your life for decades to come. Sometimes it is possible to fix the mistakes, but the cost to do so sometimes runs into tens of thousands of dollars, whereas properly drafted documents likely would have cost less.
Finally, is it worth the investment?
It is human nature to want to spend money on things that bring joy. A divorce is not a joyous occasion. Even so, the money you paid for your wedding party probably did not safeguard your assets for your future or retirement. Nor did it safeguard your children’s futures.
Is it possible to do a divorce without an attorney? Yes, we have seen homemade divorce judgments that did not have disastrous consequences. Could those have been drafted better to avoid future disputes? Almost always, yes. And we’ve seen plenty of Judgments with one or more mistakes with staggering consequences, such as losing a retirement fund, losing a fair share to the home’s equity, and the examples of mistakes that we have been requested to fix could go on.