We get a lot of questions about costs in a divorce case. It’s probably unsurprising, because we’re inundated with the bad stuff about divorce – how much it costs, how long it takes, the damage it causes the children, etc. But, the thing is, divorce isn’t always a bad thing, or, at least, it doesn’t have to be.
I mean, sure, it would have probably been better if you’d married Prince Charming and lived happily ever after, but there’s also not that much room for growth in that fairy tale. Maybe getting married was a mistake, but if you’ve learned something and grown and changed as a person, well, my opinion is that this was always supposed to be part of your story. It’s part of you becoming who you were meant to be, and I’ll be very surprised if, at the end of this process, you aren’t telling me (like so many of my clients before you have already told me) that you’re actually grateful this happened because it has helped you become a new and improved version of you. And if you had children? Well, obviously, THAT was meant to be, too.
We don’t all get Prince Charming on our first or even second or sometimes even third tries. We’re human, and we make mistakes. But our mistakes shape us, too, and that shaping process is important.
Anyway, I digress. How much does it actually cost? Because, regardless of whether you’ve grown and changed as a person to become the woman you were meant to be, it’s a little scary to envision this blank check hanging out there.
Do you guys give a quote for divorce costs?
Kinda sorta. That, to me, is a bit of a weird question – it’s not like I’m a contractor envisioning your new kitchen remodel. A divorce is a complicated thing, and there are often a lot of moving pieces involved. They’re not always the same moving pieces, either.
Not every case is a spousal support case, for example, and that’s often a wild card issue in divorce. In a case where the marriage was super short, the parties have very similar incomes, or the wife earns more than the husband, spousal support may not be an issue. (Of course, a husband can ask for support same as a wife, it’s just that they often do so with less frequency.)
Not every case is a custody case, either, and if ever there was a wild card, it’s definitely custody!
So, yeah, cases vary a lot, both in terms of the issues involved and the level of complexity involved with each issue. If spousal support is an issue, for example, but we’ve got a clear idea of what each party earns, we can usually work it out. If, though, spousal support is an issue and, because one of the parties owns his own business and tries to under report his income, its difficult to tell what one or both parties earns… well, it’s a little more complicated.
There are tons of factors that affect the total overall cost of a divorce, including the difficulty of your husband and the attorney he hires.
Is your divorce going to take place in court, or are you going to be able to reach an agreement? That matters, too! Going to court is always, always more expensive than negotiation.
All that to say, we don’t ever know how much a divorce will cost, and it’s very difficult to estimate at the beginning of the process before we even know all the issues involved. At that stage, I rarely know anything more about the husband than what my client has told me. I don’t know who he’ll hire, in many cases, and I don’t know how he’ll respond to our proposals.
We don’t really give quotes, per se. It doesn’t really work like that. How we DO work is that we ask for a retainer up front. A retainer is an amount of money that goes into an escrow account with your name on it, and then we bill from that account as work is done.
The money is yours, and it stays yours, until we’ve done the work to earn the fee. It’s refundable to you after your case concludes, too.
Is a retainer an estimate of costs in a divorce case?
No, not exactly. Like I said, it’s kind of hard (or, like, impossible!) to actually quote for divorce. Mostly, a retainer is an amount of money that, in our opinion, will help you get a good start on your case.
Usually, we quote something like $2500 for agreement cases, and $5,000 and up for contested cases – but it depends on the level of complexity involved. I’ve seen retainers as high as $20,000, though that’s not the norm.
Are you more or less expensive than other family law firms?
A retainer isn’t a good way to judge how expensive a firm is, though a high retainer can obviously be the difference between you being able to afford to hire an attorney or not!
A retainer is your money, and it’s basically just a guarantee that fees will be paid. Why do we do that? Well, once we’ve filed for divorce, it can be hard to get a judge to let us out of a case. We can’t afford to get stuck in a case where someone can’t pay their bill, any more than you can keep going to work day after day if your boss isn’t paying you. We need to have a buffer built in there to ensure that your representation is uninterrupted, and that we’re able to keep our lights on in the meantime.
A better way to judge how expensive a firm or a particular lawyer is is by looking at his or her hourly rate. THAT’s what they’re charging you, and that shows you how quickly your retainer fee will deplete.
Let’s take a $10,000 example. If your attorney charges $500 an hour, you’ll get roughly 20 hours of work covered by your retainer. If your attorney charges $250 an hour, you’ll get 40 hours of work. It doesn’t take a genius to see that you get a lot more man hours covered by the $250 an hour lawyer than the $500 lawyer.
Of course, attorneys aren’t all apples to apples. A newer attorney will likely charge less, but they’re less experienced and may not be as efficient in their use of your money, either. It’s important to carefully compare the attorneys you’re considering hiring, not just for price, but for their other attributes as well.
It can be hard to get a “quote” for a divorce case, but if you ask questions about typical retainers and hourly rates, it’ll at least help you figure out whether or not a particular firm or attorney is in your price range.
It’s hard to know up front – for us and for you! As Priscilla, our lead receptionist and the first smiling face you’d see if you walked through the doors of our Virginia Beach office would say, “we’re not the most expensive in town, but neither are we the least.” And, anyway, isn’t that what you’d expect from a firm that provides premium representation exclusively to women? We’re the only firm in Virginia representing women exclusively in divorce, custody, and support, and the largest nationwide.
Also, our attorneys are awesome, and boast a whole host of impressive credentials. Check them out here.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.