Virginia Family Law Firms With Payment Plans

Posted on Feb 19, 2024 by Katie Carter

I don’t want to mislead you, so I’ll tell you from the first sentence: I am not aware of any reputable Hampton Roads, Virginia-based family law attorneys that take payment plans.

I know – hiring an attorney is expensive.  Generally speaking, family law attorneys work on retainers, which means that you have to pay a large sum of money upfront and then the attorney bills hourly, deducting from that retainer, as work is done.  There is very little lump sum work, too, because the amount of time involved in cases can vary so dramatically.  It is possible that you will have to replenish your trust account at some point, if the funds from your initial retainer amount were exhausted working on your case.

In terms of looking at attorney fees and talking about how much it costs, there are a couple of ways to look at it.  I think that the best barometer of overall costs is to look at the attorney’s hourly rate, rather than the retainer amount, because the hourly rate will show you how many hours of work you’ll get in the initial retainer amount.

For most firms, the retainer amount is somewhat similar.  It’s less for an agreement case than a litigated one, but it’s going to range somewhere between $2,000 and $10,000, on average.  That’s a somewhat wide range, but – then again – there are massive, massive differences between cases, even at the very beginning.  (A $10,000+ retainer would generally be for a super contested or otherwise complicated case.)

Family law attorneys are not like personal injury attorneys; ethically, we are not allowed to take cases on a contingent fee.  (You know what I mean because you’ve seen commercials for personal injury attorneys – ‘no fee unless we get money for YOU!’ is a contingent fee.)  In any case, a contingent fee doesn’t really work (which, incidentally, is why it’s not ethical).  A PI attorney would take a case and then take 20-40% of the settlement amount.  We can’t take a case and take 20-40% of your marital assets.  That would be an astronomical amount (or possibly even a total pittance, depending on the case).

We don’t take cases that way.  We don’t distinguish between the cases we will take based on how much money was generated (or lost) in the marriage.  Personal injury attorneys, on the other hand, are actively looking for the cases that will net them the most profit possible – hence the free consultation and ‘we’ll come to you!’ advertisements you see.

We have initial consultations where – instead of screening to decide if we’ll take your case – we try to give as much information as possible.  That’s why they’re paid; they’re not part of our screening and are instead designed to benefit your decision-making process at a critical point in the case.  We help you come up with a plan of action and, if you decide to work with us, we offer a retainer agreement.  It includes a retainer fee – the lump of money you pay up front – and the agreement, which is a legal contract that governs the attorney/client relationship that will be formed if you decide to retain.

How much does it cost?

It can be hard to gauge overall costs of a case, especially at the beginning stages.  I find that women are in two camps: one, they tell me it’ll be the worst case I’ve ever seen and he’ll never agree to anything ever, and, two, they tell me, oh, don’t worry, it’ll be sooooo amicable.

Both of these kinds of women are often wrong.  In any case, at the initial consultation phase, I don’t know anything about her husband other than what she’s told me, and I usually don’t know whether he has hired an attorney and, if so, who.  Both of these details matter enormously.

In terms of ballpark, it’s always hard to estimate.  Agreement cases usually cost less; I’d say an average ballpark (and it’s easier to do ballpark with agreement cases than contested ones) would be in the neighborhood of $3,000-$10,000, at the high end.

Contested cases are much more – if you really litigate, you’re looking at probably at least $25,000 in attorney’s fees, though it could be far more.  It’s going to depend a lot on the specific issues involved; custody and spousal support are often the biggest wild cards.

“The system is just so broken!”

I hear you.  It’s scary to need an attorney and not be able to afford one.  And while I DO think that there are things that need significant improvement, there are a lot of variables here, too.

There’s no insurance we can bill, so it’s not like medical bills.  There’s no one else to pay the costs.  If we do pro bono work or discount our work or offer payment plans – it’s us paying.  And, I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to work for very long without getting paid.

The other thing about these cases is that once we’re in we’re sort of stuck, especially in a contested case.  If we’ve filed something with the court, then we’re counsel of record – and that lasts unless and until either the client and/or the judge lets us out.  So, if we get in a situation where a client isn’t paying, we can find ourselves totally stuck.

Not getting paid doesn’t change our ethical obligations.  We still have to meet deadlines, show up to court, and prepare for the case.  That’s hard to do without getting paid and it isn’t fair to other paying clients either.  It’s a terrible position to be in.  (Can you work for days or weeks or YEARS without being paid?  Neither can we!)

Most reputable family law attorneys can’t offer a payment plan.  It just doesn’t work.  It’s not that we don’t care or don’t want to help; I don’t think anyone would go to law school if they didn’t deeply want to help other people!  But it’s much, much more difficult than it sounds.  The beginning of a case is often really busy and, if you get behind on paying expenses associated with your case, it can become difficult – or even impossible – to catch up.

I’m not saying it’s fair that there are not many resources available for low-income clients, I’m just saying that, well, there aren’t.  They don’t exist.  So, to the extent that we do it, we’re doing it out of our own pockets.  Which is fine to do if you are willing and able – but it can also spiral wildly out of control.  We’re not required to do pro bono hours (though many of us do!) but we often prefer to do things like teach seminars or appear for single hearings rather than taking on an entire case either pro bono or on a payment plan.  (In many cases, there really isn’t much difference!)

If you do need low cost help, though, consider looking into our monthly divorce seminars, custody seminars for moms, and free books, reports, and blogs.  Scholarships are available for deserving candidates, so reach out to us at 757-425-5200 if you need help with a seminar fee.  For more information, to schedule a consultation, or to register for a seminar, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.