Divorce attorneys fees and costs are right there with the top questions asked by prospective family law clients. They go hand-in-hand with:
1. How long does a divorce take?
2. How much does a divorce cost?
In this article, we are going to discuss attorneys fees and costs in a divorce proceeding, the different types of fee options that may be available to you for your case and how you can manage those fees and costs. Look, we know fear of the unknown stinks. But that is why you are here right? To get some foundational answers so you can start making informed decisions. Let's get started.
The different types of divorce consultations available
Most divorce attorneys offer a free consultation to prospective clients. In the past we have written about how the free divorce consultation isn't particularly helpful just because it is free but rather if it is informative. Consultations typically break down into the following three categories:
1. A free consultation by telephone or in person where the divorce attorney discusses with you the general facts of the case and the attorney provides general information regarding divorce law and procedure. Of course, what an attorney may offer at any consultation (free or otherwise) can vary.
2. A paid consultation will also vary. Some may be longer and more in depth than a free one. Here, the attorney charges the prospective client an hourly rate or flat fee and the consultation lasts between 1 to 3 hours. These types of consultations may go into more detail about the facts of the case and the law and may even have the client complete some forms to get a better understanding of the case. After a paid consultation the client should have a better idea of the prospective fees and costs and a better understanding of how the facts apply to California family law.
Even a paid consultation is not a substitute for efficient and intelligent legal representation because facts can change and issues in the case may evolve; especially when there is a level of unpredictability with what the prospective client's spouse may do.
3. That leads us to the third type of consultation with a divorce attorney which traditionally breaks down into two sessions and includes an initial consultation where that general facts are gathered and, a more in-depth consultation once documents have been reviewed. The facts are better understood and legal research, if necessary, has been completed.
This third type of consultation is more common in cases where a divorce case is already pending and the client needs a second opinion because he or she is considering changing divorce attorneys. This third type of consultation is helpful because it allows the client to get that consultation and opinion without committing to changing divorce attorneys. After all, it is possible that the direction the client's current attorney is taking is consistent with the right path.
Fees and costs at the outset of the case
Divorce cases are tough to budget because there is a level of unpredictability to them. However, that difficulty should not prevent the attorney from setting an initial and flexible divorce case budget that evolves with time. Also, there are some things that don't require a crystal ball. For example, you and your attorney should know whether or not there is or is not going to be a contested custody issue. Typically, the husband and wife have spoken about these things before the divorce starts and the client should at least have a reasonable idea of what may be coming.
The initial budget takes into consider:
- Preparation of the petition (or response) and,
- Filing (or responding to)theinitialrequest fororderregardingtheinitial orders sought, such as
- Child custody,
- Child support,
- Spousal support and,
- Attorney fees.
Would you like an example? Assume we represent the father and he is concerned about his custody rights. Let's also assume the facts of the case are that of a middle-class family where both parents work but the mother has made threats that she is going to get "full custody" of the kids. In such a case, our divorce attorneys would prepare the initial petition and required forms to file the case and get a case number. We would not serve the papers immediately but instead gather the client's financial information to complete the necessary and mandatory preliminary declaration of disclosure. If this cannot be done quickly, we would calendar to complete this shortly after filing the petition We would then prepare the necessary "request for order" (the written court documents we file with the court to get a court date) regarding child custody and visitation and ask for custody and parenting time orders consistent with the children's best interest.
Could our divorce attorneys put a budget together for the father to get him through this initial stage? Yes. We could then revisit that budget after the initial hearing concludes.
What to expect from divorce fees as the case proceeds to settlement or trial
Settlement doesn't just happen. Husbands and wives can find themselves in what feels like a never ending cycle of fighting over custody, support or property issues. Our clients don't just have the benefit of our experience but also our motivation to get a client's case resolved or, if that is not possible because our client's spouse is unreasonable, to make reasonable efforts to set the case up in such a way that the court, at a trial or hearing that should have been unnecessary, may order attorney's fees against the other spouse.
We do this but working with our clients to find out what their goals are. Working together to set reasonable expectations and then, once the picture is clear on the custody and financial issues, making settlement offers authorized by our clients and consistent with the facts and law.
In this way, the divorce attorney's fees and costs are mitigated because one of three things happen:
1. The case settles which makes everyone happy,
2. Part of the case settles and therefore the attorney fees going forward is not as much as it would have been or,
3. Even if none of the issues settle, we have documented reasonable attempts to settle the case which we can use when the family law judge rules on the issues to show that the other spouse's conduct and refusal to settle violated Family Code 271.
Our attorneys offer prospective clients different options. One of them is a paid, one hour consultation at a very reasonable price. In that consultation, we will discuss your case in detail and the attorney's fees issues and, together, we will try to come up with a budget that makes sense for you.