Understanding Legal Fees: How much will a divorce or custody case cost?

Chances are that if you need the help of a family lawyer, things are already stressful. The uncertainty of legal fees can add to the difficulty. Many people go without the help they need because they cannot afford the retainers or get scared away by aggressive quotes or uncertainty.

The reality is that an attorney probably cannot predict precisely how much your case is going to cost. Nationwide, a divorce runs in the tens of thousands on average. However, I have cases cost less than $1000, while others might end up costing $50,000.

Most people cannot handle the uncertainty of legal costs in a divorce or family case. Here are some guidelines to help you understand how much or little your case might be. Ask yourself:

  • What is at stake in terms of income or assets? How large, small or complex is your marital estate?
  • Is there a small business involved?
  • Does either spouse want maintenance?
  • Is custody an issue? How far apart are you and your spouse from agreeing to a schedule? Are you able to follow a schedule now?
  • How much can you afford (or access through loans or credit) to pay for your case?
  • Are there allegations of abuse between you or abuse or neglect of a child?
  • How high conflict is your relationship since separation?

A good rule of thumb is that more issues that are in dispute the more your case will cost. A divorcing couple who has a simple estate with few assets and no children and have already worked out most of the terms of their divorce will spend a fraction of the amount a bitterly bickering couple with children and a large amount of property will spend.

How is a Family Lawyer Paid?

The traditional method of working with a family attorney is that after the attorney evaluates your case you are asked to pay a retainer. This is loosely speaking the attorney’s guesstimate of what the case will cost initially. The attorney then is paid from the retainer as work is performed.

Family cases often have curveballs in them, and there is no way to predict how litigation-happy the other side will be. You may end up being asked for more money because the retainer has been exhausted.

That said, our approach is to be open and transparent about costs and fees. In your consultation, we will discuss your budget and what cases similar to yours ended up costing. It is better to have a frank discussion about costs than end up in a pickle in the middle of a case.

Flat Fee Divorces  

Flat fees are a great idea for the right case. You will know exactly how much you will pay for the work you need. If you are interested in flat fees, my firm may have options for you to consider depending on your case.

Consider Mediation  

Mediation can be a wonderful – and more affordable – option for many families. Fees are paid at a set rate per hour for the sessions. Although some families need multiple sessions, the costs are cheaper typically than fighting in court.

How can you pay for divorce legal fees?

Thinking about the legal fees associated with divorce or other family law matter can be stressful. Here is a list of how most people pay:

Money on hand. You may be able to afford the fees by simply writing a check. Remember, hiring a divorce attorney is like any other service. If you hire a plumber, a simple faucet change will cost less than replacing a water heater. The fewer issues the attorney has to handle for you the cheaper the cost. 

Credit cards. Many people use credit cards to pay the legal bills.

Use a retirement account. Some people withdraw from or take a loan against their 401(k) or other retirement account. Watch out for taxes, fees and penalties if you use this method.

Borrowing from family or friends. This is a difficult moment in your life. This is a good time to lean on your support network in general. Many people also lean on them to help with fees too.

Third-party funding. There are new companies often popping up that can fund litigation. Do thorough research before choosing this option.

Our goal is to help you get the best help possible based on your needs and budget. Contact us for a consultation to have an honest talk about the divorce process and costs.


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