A divorce lawyer is essential if you are planning a divorce, but they come at a price. The cost of high quality, legal assistance can seem unbelievably high, but it will be worth every penny. The key is to know what each service costs, and what you will be getting for your hard earned money.
The average divorce costs $20,000 in lawyer and court fees. While there are do-it-yourself divorce kits, they are not always recommended in situations where custody and property distribution are disputed. Some kits only include the most basic necessary forms and a checklist of essential divorce paperwork that must be filed. Because most divorces involve some sort of dispute, divorce has become a major industry bringing in $28 billion dollars every year.
In the USA, divorce lawyers perform a highly necessary service and are well compensated for it. A reputable divorce lawyer will cost at least $75 an hour. They may also ask for a retainer fee, which can be anywhere from a few hundred to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. A retainer is what the lawyer perceives as the minimal amount your divorce will cost. They will deduct their charges from the retainer fee until they have used it up entirely. You will be billed for the remainder.
With a divorce rate hovering around fifty percent, a divorce lawyer has an endless source of clients. Each state has unique divorce laws, so this further complicates the situation. However, there are a few basic costs that you will incur with any divorce lawyer in any area of the United States.
First, you will need to have the basic court paperwork reviewed to ensure there are no loopholes and that it is in compliance with all laws and statutes. This can take several hours, especially if you choose to have the divorce lawyer's staff file papers on your behalf. Although this is standard practice, you may be able to save money by drawing up the papers yourself and filing them yourself, with the lawyer merely reviewing them and advising you. Beware, however, that many lawyers will not offer this minimal level of representation. A large percentage of the money they earn in a divorce is through these secondary costs and fees, and they may not want to give up this lucrative source of income.
Second, you should factor in standard office services such as photocopying and faxing. These are not included in your hourly rate-that is just for the time with the divorce lawyer. The lawyer will also charge for his travel time and any time spent on the phone with you. You should keep detailed records of all conversations you have with your divorce lawyer to make sure you are not being overcharged.
Seemingly small costs like serving fees and subpoenas also will add up quickly. Every time a person does anything on your behalf or even talks to another person on your behalf, you will be charged. Whether you file your papers yourself or let the divorce lawyer's office handle it, you are also going to be paying for court fees and filing fees with every document.
The most expensive part of the divorce process will likely be settling on a division of property and child custody. If you and your spouse are still on good speaking terms, it is cheapest and easiest for all if you get together without lawyers and make a written document detailing how you plan to handle these details. Then, your lawyers can merely read the documents, suggest changes, and file them. The very expensive alternative is to argue every point with both parties and their lawyers present. Although you may not feel like talking calmly with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, making an effort to do so can save you thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars.
Extended court battles are another expensive divorce nightmare that can be avoided. Your lawyer will most likely charge you for every second he spends in court, as well as travel time to and from the facility, the time he or she spends studying applicable laws and forming an argument, and any other time the lawyer or their employees spend thinking about your case. At upwards of $100 per hour, this can add up to one thousand dollars or more every day that you are in court. This should be avoided at all costs.
To prevent divorce fees from adding up beyond what you can afford, talk to your prospective lawyer beforehand. Find out whether they prefer settlement or litigation (litigation costs much more). Things like retainer fees and hourly charges may be negotiable. You should also ask whether a statement detailing recent charges and the balance on your retainer can be mailed to you monthly. The best way to handle this is usually to tell the lawyer how much you can afford to spend and what services you foresee needing. Although negotiation and bargaining can be unpleasant, they will save hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
Many lawyers will offer a flat fee divorce. These cost in the mid thousands and do not include extended court battles and other time intensive services. They usually cover basic appointments, filing necessary papers, a limited negotiation period, and office time. This may be the best choice if you are afraid of being overwhelmed with small charges.
After you are finished bargaining, ask for a written retainer agreement. This will detail what services the divorce lawyer is offering and what he will charge for them. It will cover details such as the retainer fee and anticipated costs. Beware of a lawyer who does not agree to give you this written contract.
A wise comedian once said: How much does a divorce cost? As much as you can afford to spend! This unpleasant reality can be avoided if you are willing to do a little footwork, compromise with your former partner, and find a lawyer willing to negotiate.
Here are additional resources you might be interested in:
How to Conduct a Do It Yourself Divorce in the USA?
Divorce Statistics in the USA
There's a number of places online where you can carry out a divorce (which is much cheaper than going through the courts and lawyers). Legal Zoom's 3-Step Divorce Process
can provide quick and easy online divorces.
Also, there's an excellent ebook about deciding whether to Get a Divorce or Stay In the Relationship
. Every couple should read this before making the decision.