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Keeping Divorce Costs Down

Updated: 05/04/2023

Est. Reading: 6 minutes

Anyone experiencing the turmoil of litigation and divorce, knows that the financial toll of attorney’s fees can be a significant concern. Knowing what you can do to keep costs under control can make the experience a little less unpleasant. Where do you start? The following discusses some of the considerations you will face and how you may want to navigate those choices.

Choice of an Attorney

When choosing an attorney, find out how that attorney bills their Clients. Is there a retainer and hourly rate or a flat fee? Does the attorney have a menu of costs for each task—such as, if you send an e-mail you will be charged $_____? Does the attorney work on a retainer—which is an account you will fund and from which they will draw their fees and costs? Are you required to replenish the retainer every month?

An attorney that works on a retainer with an hourly rate (such as $250/hr.) that is broken into 5-minute increments—rather than 15-minute increments as many attorneys charge—may result in significant savings for a Client. If the Client calls to talk for 4 minutes, a 5-minute deduction ($20.83) would be taken from the retainer rather than a 15-minute deduction ($62.50). So, it is important to ask the attorney about the way in which the hourly rate is billed.

When choosing an attorney, it is also important to ask about who will be providing the actual day-to-day service and interaction. Many Clients will query whether their case can be handled 100% by the attorney with whom they are consulting; or, if others in the office will be handling the case. This question is usually asked because the Client believes it to be best when “the attorney” does everything on the case. However, if the attorney does everything, the Client will be paying the attorney to do everything.

Many procedural and administrative tasks that keep a case progressing through the Court or provide updates to Clients, do not require the attorney’s legal opinions. Often, such tasks are routine, part of the service the attorney offers to keep the Client updated and to adhere to Court Orders, rules and procedures. Generally, support staff are billed at much less than the attorney’s rate. So, if support staff are performing procedural tasks such as filing documents and setting Court appearances and docketing deadlines, the Client is billed much less than if the attorney performed these functions. The attorney bills at $250/hr., the paralegal at $125/hr. You do the math.

The Initial Retainer

If your attorney works on a retainer, it is also important to look at the retainer amount charged by the attorney. An attorney that charges a $15,000 retainer is likely too expensive for many people going through a divorce. A $5000 retainer may be more realistic—but is it likely the entire case will be concluded for $5000 or is there a likelihood that additional funds will need to be added to the retainer as the case progresses?

Some attorneys require the client to replenish the retainer every month. This means you must have funds available every month to pay to the attorney. Some simply withdraw from the retainer and when it reaches a low level ($500 or so) the client must choose to replenish or have the attorney withdraw from representation.

The reality of choosing a divorce lawyer often comes down to a gut feeling—the attorney was accessible, answered questions in a comprehensive and understandable way, appeared to recognize significant issues and was relatively affordable. Therefore, the attorney appears to be the right choice for the client. In subsequent posts, we will explore what you can do while working with your attorney to help keep costs under control.

Give Jeanne a call and ask her all the questions discussed above to see if she is the right fit for you and your case. She'd be happy to consult with you!

Anyone experiencing the turmoil of litigation and divorce, knows that the financial toll of attorney’s fees can be a significant concern. Knowing what you can do to keep costs under control can make the experience a little less unpleasant. Where do you start? The following discusses some of the considerations you will face and how you may want to navigate those choices.

How Often Do I Contact My Attorney?

Clients need to be able to contact their attorney when they have questions, concerns or require updates for issues that arise. For most attorneys, every contact with a Client is billed at the attorney’s rate for the period of time specified. For the attorney’s support staff, the Client contacts are billed at their rate for the specified period of time. So, every time a Client calls on the phone to the attorney’s office—there is a charge to the Client. Every e-mail sent by the Client to the attorney or staff will also result in a charge.

The Client will and should hold the attorney responsible for the information contained in the e-mail and their reply. Therefore, a charge for the attorney’s time (or for the support staff time, if that is who replies) should be anticipated. In this age of instant e-mail and demands for instant replies—every-time an issue arises—costs can increase rapidly. Some Clients send multiple e-mails throughout the day—everyday. This results in a Client’s retainer being depleted very quickly. Unfortunately, e-mail has its limits and attempts to hold conversations—where questions are posed based on prior statements—can result in many, many e-mails back and forth—all at a significant cost to the Client.

To help decrease costs, this attorney recommends to Clients:

Write down and compile your questions, when possible, so you can set time with the attorney (in person or by phone) to discuss ALL your questions thoroughly. Often the answer to one question or issue, influences or changes the answer to another. Nuance and suggestion—which are often part of discussing options and strategies-- are lost in e-mail, yet may be important to the discussion of options available to the Client. Of course, there are urgent issues that arise and require an instant answer. Sometimes that means e-mail; better yet, pick up the phone and call your attorney. Then, you know you are being heard and nothing is being left to imagination.

Producing Documents to Your Attorney

Another way to decrease costs is to provide to the attorney all of the documents they request at one time. During the divorce process, each Party has to disclose the assets and debts to the other. This results in many documents (proof of the assets and debts) having to be sent by the Client to the attorney—so the attorney can record the documents and compile them and disclose them according to the Court procedures.

If the Client gathers everything together and discloses it to their attorney at one time, the attorney can—at one time—turn their attention to the documents and get them processed. This allows the attorney’s or support staff’s attention and efforts to be concentrated and streamlined on the one task, all with the goal of disclosing the documents to the opposing party and filing the proof of completion with the Court.

If, however, the Client delivers the documents--by e-mail or regular mail or drops them off—over a series of days or weeks, this causes the attorney and support staff to: drop what they are doing, pick up the documents, access the file, determine how those documents fit into the big picture of disclosures already received and process (save to computer file, print for physical file, notate for the Certificate of Compliance, etc.) the limited number of documents at that time—only to have to go through the process all over again, when more documents trickle in.

In summary, here are two tried and true ways to help decrease your attorney’s fees and costs:

When possible, save up questions and information until you can discuss it all with your family law attorney at one time—rather than sending daily e-mails that require the attorney’s attention and/or response; and

When possible, produce requested documents all at one time, to prevent the attorney and support staff from having to revisit the same issues and procedures for processing documents multiple times.

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