One of the most common questions a client will ask upon contacting an attorney is, “How much will this cost?” Unfortunately, the answer is far from clear. While cost is certainly a subjective term, the focus here will be financial cost. As a starting point, the hourly rate a particular attorney charges is set in advance and known by all at the start of representation. However, there are a number of factors aside from hourly rate that impact the time and expense of a divorce and are beyond the attorney’s control.
What are the contested issues?
If divorcing parties are able to reach agreements on the major issues such as custody of children, spousal maintenance, and division of assets, this will often keep the overall cost of the divorce down. However, if one or both parties choose to litigate all issues great and small, much more time will be spent and consequently the court costs, Alternative Dispute Resolution costs, and attorney’s fees will increase as a result.
Who is the opposing attorney?
Attorneys develop unique styles and also develop relationships with other attorneys and the courts. Some styles mesh well, while others do not. An attorney with a particularly litigious approach may not work well with an attorney seeking to resolve matters for a client through Alternative Dispute Resolution. For this reason, it is important to seek an attorney that can adapt to the changing circumstances of a case.
How can we get this settled?
Great emphasis is placed on parties participating in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in an attempt to keep these important, personal matters out of court. A smorgasbord of ADR options seems to exist including mediation, Early Neutral Evaluation, and arbitration. Working with an attorney who understands these processes and is able to assist you in choosing one that is appropriate for your circumstances is important. ADR is not one size fits all and by getting into an appropriate process, you increase the odds of settlement and decrease the overall cost of the divorce.
Can we talk about this?
Communication with your attorney is extremely important, but also the source of much expense. If you call your attorney multiple times per day to discuss issues ranging from the benign to the true emergency, the invoice received at the end of the month will reflect this. Effective communication is much more vital to your case than continuous communication. While your attorney certainly needs to remain fully informed and be available to give you any advice and guidance you may need, you may want to consider the following tips to effectively communicate with your attorney while keeping costs down:
- Write down your questions for the attorney in advance so that you do not forget anything important.
- Combine all of your questions into one call or email rather than contacting your attorney multiple times per day.
- Take notes. Often a person will forget information or advice given to them by an attorney during a stressful time. Having notes of prior conversations may help decrease the need to ask again.
- Be direct. If you are able to articulate your question or concern, your attorney will be in a much better position to answer your question fully.
Who did I marry?
Sadly, the emotional toll of a divorce may lead to parties lashing out at one another or acting in a way each are not accustomed to. These stressful times may lead to more conflict or to one (or both) of the parties taking an unreasonable position. Your attorney will advocate for you, but there is only so much that can be done when the other side is unwilling to work toward settlement. The further into the divorce process a case goes, the more expensive it tends to be. An inability to settle through no fault of your own will unfortunately lead to much higher costs.
The above is not an all-inclusive list of the factors that contribute to the cost of a divorce, but certainly highlights some of the more common factors. There are many other factors that will cause the cost of a divorce to rise or fall. While it is impossible to predict the final financial cost of any particular divorce, it is important to work with an attorney who is familiar with the legal process and is able to help you efficiently and effectively navigate this process to help you protect the assets you have acquired, rather than spend them.