How Much Will My Divorce Cost?
The most accurate answer is “no one really knows” as it is nearly impossible to predict the cost of divorce. Generally speaking, the more complicated the marital estate or custody action, the more fees that will be generated. However, in our practice, we have handled multi-million dollar estates that settled quickly and inexpensively as well as modest estates that generated significant fees and costs. There is no accurate indicator of total fees for any litigation, let alone divorce and custody litigation that deal with the most intimate and important aspects of a person’s life.
Instead of asking your prospective divorce attorney about total costs, ask specific questions about the firm’s billing practices and policies. In general, divorce attorneys operate on a retainer fee system which requires you as the client to pay an amount “up front” that is held in an escrow account pending work performed by the attorney(s) on your matter. Retainer fees are purely discretionary and can vary widely from attorney to attorney and client to client depending upon the complexity of the matter.
The following are good questions to ask at your initial consultation so that you can be more fully informed about the costs of divorce litigation:
- What is your hourly rate?
- What is the hourly rate of other attorneys in your firm that may work on my matter?
- Do you accept credit card payments?
- What is your initial retainer fee? Are any unused funds refundable to me?
- What is the firm’s policy regarding replenishment of my escrow account?
- What is the billing frequency?
- Are the firm’s bills itemized?
- What is the firm’s policy if I have questions about my bill?
- Does the firm charge interest for accounts that are past due and what is the rate?
- What is the firm’s policy about continuing work on my matter if my retainer fee has been depleted?
- Can you provide a range of fees that other clients with similar cases have spent during the course of litigation?
A few other thoughts when contemplating the cost of divorce:
- You should never be billed by your attorney or your law firm for discussion regarding billing statements.
- Most attorneys that require a retainer fee will also require that you keep your escrow account replenished sufficiently for the anticipated work to be performed.
- If you do not keep your escrow account replenished, your attorney and a law firm may eventually withdraw as your attorneys and you will need to start over with a new attorney or represent yourself.
- Be careful if you are quoted a very low retainer fee if you know your case is more complex. A low retainer fee may sound attractive initially; however, the retainer fee is irrelevant to the actual expense.
- Some attorneys will designate a portion of your retainer fee as “earned upon receipt” which means that as soon as you pay it, a portion is already converted to fees to the attorney. Unless the terms are clearly spelled out in your Retainer Agreement and make sense as it relates to your matter, steer clear of this provision and do not be shy about asking that it be removed.
Marie I. Crossley has practiced exclusively in the Delaware family law arena for 17 years. Working out of MacElree Harvey’s Delaware Office, Marie handles a wide variety of divorce, custody, child support, alimony and other family law matters ranging from the mediation of small disputes to high asset complex litigation.