How much a divorce lawyer will cost would depend on whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, the issues involved, and your location. In divorce cases, lawyers usually charge an hourly fee, which depends on the location. For example, in major cities such as New York or Los Angeles, a lawyer can range between $500 to $900 per hour, with a retainer deposit of $10,000 to get started, unless the divorce is uncontested. In an uncontested divorce, a lawyer may charge a flat fee.
When the spouses do not have any children or property, divorce is usually uncontested. The spouses can go to a lawyer with all issues ironed out. The lawyer will simply file the paperwork. Expect to pay around $2,000 for a completely uncontested divorce where you and your spouse have already agreed on all issues prior to retaining a lawyer.
When spouses have children and marital property, divorce becomes more complicated. Some issues may be contested but will be eventually settled. In this case, the lawyer will have to compute child support, spousal maintenance, and identify separate from marital property. Thereafter, the lawyer will negotiate these issues with the other lawyer to ensure you get an adequate settlement. When these issues are eventually resolved, your lawyer can file the divorce action together with the pre-filing divorce settlement. Here, average legal fees can range from $3000 to $5000.
When spouses do not agree on some issues, a divorce action has to be filed and the divorce becomes contested. Legal fees will depend on whether your case goes to trial or not. When a contested divorce action is initiated, a lawyer has to file motions, request for discovery procedures, appear in court, prepare for court appearances, review the discovered documents, prepare for trial. The hours add up and your legal costs increase. In addition to legal fees, you will have to pay for the costs of depositions, including the court reporter and transcript fees.
Studies show that divorce can cost $7000 to $8000 with one issue resolved through settlement after filing of divorce action, $12,000 to $14,000 with two or more disputes resolved through settlement, $16,000 to $20,000 for trial on one issue, and $22,000 to $27,000 for trial on two or more issues. Trial will include additional discovery and preparing evidence for presentation to the court, drafting pre-trial motions and briefs, preparing witness testimony and cross-examination, and preparing opening and closing statements.
In divorce actions, a divorce lawyer might need to hire other professionals, which would increase costs. When you battle over custody, the court might appoint an attorney for the children, adding to your costs. Appraisers might be hired to appraise homes, jewelry, and artwork. When gifts or inheritance are involved, you might have to separate income (which is considered marital property) from such gift or inheritance (which is separate property). This is difficult and may require both an accountant and an attorney’s expertise.
If you want to lower your costs of divorce, the best way is to reach a settlement of all issues with your spouse so your lawyer will simply need to file the documentation. There will be no need for your lawyer to negotiate with the lawyer of your spouse.
Another way is to get an attorney on a limited basis just to consult on certain areas, such as the identification of marital property or computation of child support and maintenance. Most people, however, are uncomfortable getting an attorney on a limited basis, especially when the divorce is contested.
Lastly, to save money on divorce lawyer costs, you need to conduct yourself professionally and treat the divorce action like a job. Read all the documents given, make comments on it, and send it to your lawyer all at once. Don’t send them on piece-meal basis because your lawyer works on it as you send it. These minutes will soon add up to hours.
Don’t make your lawyer your therapist. The longer you talk to your lawyer, the more it costs. If you’re talking to your lawyer about non-legal problems and just talking about your emotional issues, this is a waste of your lawyer’s time. Your lawyer is probably billing you for this time. When you talk to your lawyer, be concise and straight to the point. Email is probably the best way to communicate with your lawyer, unless a voice call is urgently needed to explain. Voice calls, however, tend to be prolonged, and can tempt you into treating your lawyer as a therapist, especially when your telephone call has no set agenda. For this reason, communicating via email is always the best way.
Although divorce is not cheap, these few tips can help you lessen the cost of divorce. If you are contemplating divorce or have received a complaint for divorce, we, at the law offices of Albert Goodwin, are here for you. We have offices in New York City, Brooklyn, NY and Queens, NY. You can call us at 212-233-1233 or send us an email at [email protected].