By John Jones, Esq.
No rational person would buy a car without knowing how much it will cost – you do not give the dealer a blank check. Similarly, if you hire a CPA to prepare your tax returns, you want to know his/her fee in advance. The same can be said for a home improvement contractor or most every other service provider.
Unfortunately, there is no way for any attorney who is being honest with you to tell you in advance what his/her fee will be for a “contested” divorce. Virtually all lawyers who handle divorce matters charge an hourly fee. A younger lawyer with little experience will charge a lower rate than a grizzled veteran of many divorces. There are even fluctuations between geographic locations. For example, a lawyer in North Jersey may very well charge a higher hourly rate than a lawyer in South Jersey with the same qualifications.
There are four personalities in every contested divorce – the married couple and their respective lawyers. Your spouse may not be amenable to settling your differences on terms both of you can accept. Unforeseen extensive court involvement may be required to resolve your case. Your entire case or an issue within the case, which is initially believed to be uncontested may become contested and require much more time and expense than originally anticipated. Trials are exceedingly expensive. Success requires a tremendous amount of preparation time. (A good rule of thumb is to assume three hours of office time for every hour in trial.) You may appear in the courthouse and not be able to start the trial due to the court’s schedule. The trial itself may last for many days.
The fact is that there are many factors over which a lawyer has no control in contested divorce proceedings. The good news is that if you and your spouse can reach an agreement early on, a lawyer may be willing to quote a flat fee for preparing the written agreement and a flat fee for the actual divorce. The point is that the cost of the divorce is, in large part, up to the parties themselves.
The first time you meet with a lawyer, do not leave your consultation without asking about the possible legal fees and costs. It is your money, and you have every right to know what factors will affect the ultimate cost of your divorce.