During a consultation, a client wants to learn an attorneys hourly rate, the retainer amount, and how much the whole thing is going to cost. Sure, they listen to the explanation of the divorce or custody process, they ask questions about “what they can get”, but what they really walk away remembering is the amount of money they are going to spend – or the amount they think they are going to spend.
It is nearly impossible for an attorney to tell you how much it is going to cost to get divorced or separated. Each case is different and each client has different requests or demands that need to be addressed. Court based litigation is always going to cost the most. In general, family law attorneys have two billable hour rates: an in-office rate and and a higher out of office rate. If you want your attorney fighting in court, you will pay for the higher out of office rate during the times your attorney is in court. You will also pay for any court appearance, regardless if something is resolved in court or not, because once you subject yourself to litigation, you subject yourself to the Court’s schedule. If the Court can’t hear your case on a particular day, the case will get set over to a different day. And the out of office billable hours just keep adding up….
Now, there are times when litigation in a family law case is necessary: Abuse, mental or physical; Orders of protection; Addiction; Failure and/or refusal to disclose pertinent information; Any time you are not comfortable with an alternative to litigation. Absent those issues, there are some great alternatives to family law litigation that generally cost less than litigation and generally result in agreements that both parties are inclined to follow. One option that I will discuss today is the option of hiring a consulting attorney or an attorney solely for the purpose of preparing the necessary documents to finalize a divorce in court.
For example, you have been married three (3) years, no kids, no assets, no debts. It may be possible to navigate through the divorce process on your own (“pro se party”). This means you and your spouse or significant other will have to talk to one another, work out your issues, and agree to all terms of a settlement agreement. You will have to take time off of work to file a petition for dissolution of marriage, obtain a court date, and appear before a judge for a hearing to finalize the divorce. If you do all this, it still would be worth the time and effort to hire an attorney on an hourly basis as a consulting attorney or as an attorney to review the documents you have prepared. I can’t tell you how many times pro se parties take a day off of work to finalize their divorce, appear before a judge, and are turned away because they don’t have the right paper work or the paper work is not in an acceptable form for the Court. Don’t waste your time, hire an attorney to at least review your documents or pay an attorney a fee to draft the necessary paper work and appear on that last, but most important, day in court.
Appearing in court with an attorney will likely get your case called faster (which means you may just get out of the court house before 10 am!), guarantee that the papers will be accepted by the judge, and please the Court (since they will now be able to move on to the other 100 cases they have to hear that day). The prove-up hearing (the hearing that finalizes the divorce) should take 5-10 minutes with an attorney in front of the judge. If you do it on your own, you could be there all morning and you may still have to take another day off of work to return to court on some future date. Remember, you can always discuss the hourly rate with an attorney, so don’t let the cost of legal services deter you from doing it right the first time.
Tomorrow, additional alternatives to courtroom litigation will be discussed….