At one point or another, virtually every client asks, “How much will it cost to divorce?” The correct answer is, “It depends.” Divorces can be terribly expensive, especially when factoring in all the non-financial costs, including those which are emotional, psychological, familial, spiritual and social. In order to assess the true cost of a divorce, one must consider all aspects of life affected by the action.
When contemplating the potential monetary costs associated with a case, the inquiry must be framed broadly enough to include not just attorney’s fees, but the various orders which will eventually be entered in a case. Unfortunately, too often some parties are short-sighted in selecting an attorney. Consider the spouse who hires Attorney A and pays him $3,000 in attorney’s fees, instead of Attorney B who requested a $4,500 retainer. On the surface, one might conclude that the client saved himself $1,500 by selecting the less expensive lawyer. However, one must also consider what Attorney A delivered for that $3,000, and compare that to what Attorney B would have provided had he been retained. This is a potentially huge issue when it comes to cases involving child support, spousal support, dividing assets and debts, and attorney’s fees (meaning when one party is ordered to pay some or all of the other party’s attorney’s fees).
For example, consider the true cost of the case if Attorney A secured a $500 per month support award for his client when Attorney B, if hired, would have obtained a $750 per month support award. Over 5 years, Attorney B would have delivered a benefit of $15,000 to the client, all for an extra $1,500 in attorney’s fees.
That said, most often clients really want to know how much their attorney is going to charge them for representation when they ask, “How much does it cost to divorce?” While there are a lot of contributing factors, the following are the most influential:
1. The level of acrimony or amicability in the case.
2. The complexity of the community property estate.
3. Whether child custody is an issue, and if that issue can be resolved by agreement.
4. The attorneys involved in the case.
5. The judicial officer assigned to the matter.
Amicable Divorces Cost Less
Getting a divorce does not have to pave the way to bankruptcy. The bottom line is that contentious cases cost more than amicable ones. Contention leads to litigation, and litigation (fighting in court) always costs more than resolving issues by agreement. Of course sometimes litigation is absolutely necessary in order to protect one’s rights.
The More Complex the Community Property Estate, the More the Legal Expense
Most people assume that those with large estates will pay more in attorney’s fees than those with small estates. This is not necessarily true. It is not the size, but the complexity of the estate that influences the amount of attorney’s fees which will be incurred. It is very possible that a client with few, but commingled assets will pay more in attorney’s fees than a client with many, but uncomplicated assets. Cases involving assets which contain both community and separate property interests, retirement benefits, real estate, stock options, and business interests are among those which can be riddled with almost imperceptible complexities. It is imperative that parties hire an experienced attorney who is able to quickly identify and tackle the subtle nuances that distinguish complex cases from those which are more run-of-the-mill.
You Can Save A Lot Money, If You Can Agree on Custody Arrangements
Resolving child custody disputes is almost always the most expensive aspect of a divorce case. Replacement housing can be acquired. Retirement accounts can be replenished. Vehicles can be repurchased. Time with ones children is simply irreplaceable. For that reason, too often the gloves come off and parties decide to duke it out in court over the issue of child custody, rather than negotiate in good faith to reach a resolution beneficial to their children. When both parties are reasonable and selfless, there is virtually no cost to acquiring child custody orders. However, when one or both parties are unreasonable, selfish and unyielding, the costs of litigating child custody issues can be jaw-dropping. It is crucial to have an attorney who can not only advise you of your child custody rights, but who can also competently assess your likely outcome in litigation and have the greatest positive effect on that outcome should litigation be required.
Hiring A Great Divorce Attorney is a Money Saver in The Long Run!
Not all attorneys are created equal. Since almost all family law lawyers work on an hourly basis, it is vital that you hire one with uncompromising integrity. We pride ourselves in billing our clients honestly and transparently. We treat our clients the way we would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.
Too often, people fall victim to the cliché and outdated idea that they need a “aggressive” attorney. Clients would do well to be wary of any attorney who touts his universal policy of aggression. There is definitely a time and a place to be aggressive. Sometimes, however, it is not in a client’s best interest to pursue issues like a bull in a china shop. Sometimes what is required is surgeon-like precision in delicately negotiating with the other side. There is truth to the adage that one can often obtain more with sugar than vinegar. However, if sugar is not producing results, than one must have an attorney who is not afraid to get in the trenches and start vehemently fighting for their client’s cause.
The skill, temperament, competency and compatibility of the attorneys involved in a case are definitely leading factors in the ultimate amount of attorney’s fees a client will incur.
Judges Can Save or Cost You Attorney’s Fees
It is important to know your judge and his tendencies from the outset of the case. If those tendencies are inconsistent with your goals, it is imperative to promptly request a new judicial officer. Ironically, some judges are inherently indecisive. We call these judges “wafflers.” Their inability to decide difficult issues can result in a case going back to the courtroom time and time again. Similarly, judges’ caseloads also contribute to the amount of time required by attorneys and the ultimate cost of a case.
Since the Family Code enables judges to order one party to contribute to the other’s attorney’s fees and costs, judges have great influence and control over the ultimate amount of attorneys fees paid in a case. For example, if you are the higher income earning spouse, if your case is assigned to a judge who is generous in his attorney’s fees awards to the lower income earning spouse, you can quickly find yourself paying much more for your divorce than you should. In a similar vein, if you are the lower income earing spouse and find yourself with a notoriously stingy judge, his modest award of attorney’s fees is likely to cause you to spend more than you should in attorney’s fees.
We have handled divorce cases where attorney’s fees have been a low as $1,500. We have also been involved in divorce cases where attorney’s fees have exceeded $100,000. That said, the majority of our divorce cases end up costing between $5,000-$8,000. However, it is important to know that every single case is different. It is for that reason, that we take the time in our consultations to thoroughly assess each case so that we can provide our clients with an appropriate retainer quote.