The Cost of Getting Divorced and How to Keep Fees Down

Posted on in Divorce

Wheaton divorce lawyerWhen parties have a completely uncontested (agreed upon) divorce, our office McSwain Nagle & Giese, P.C. may handle those cases on a flat fee basis, where no hourly charges are incurred. Unfortunately, even in situations where spouses are somewhat amicable, it is often very difficult to reach an agreement without legal guidance and some negotiations or litigation, particularly if there are minor children involved or substantial assets. In those cases, it is necessary to hire an experienced divorce attorney who is going to get you the best possible outcome while being cognizant of the cost to you. 

Since every family’s circumstances are so different, it would be nearly impossible to predict the cost of a divorce, which is why most divorce attorneys bill at an hourly rate. Hourly rates can vary from firm to firm but typically are based upon the experience of the attorney and the reputation of the firm. Paralegals and law clerks bill at a lower hourly rate and therefore can be used as a cost-saving tool. In addition to paying an hourly rate, most reputable law firms will require a retainer fee, which is an upfront lump-sum payment in order to secure the attorney’s services for your case. The retainer is placed into the lawyer’s trust fund/IOLTA account (an account that holds money on behalf of clients) and when the lawyer generates an invoice, the retainer is applied to the amount owed prior to the client having to pay additional funds. Family law attorneys in Illinois are required to generate and tender fee statements at least every 90 days, however many law firms, including ours, issue them every month.  

In addition to attorney’s fees, there are also costs associated with the divorce that are not paid to the attorney. Basic examples include filing fees, service fees, subpoena fees, and costs associated with a deposition (court reporter and transcript). Other larger costs include the cost of mediation, a guardian ad litem, evaluator, or business valuation/accounting services. Since these fees are often also based upon hourly billing, they can be unpredictable and sometimes substantial.

The single largest factor that affects the cost of your divorce is how amicable or contentious the case is. The more that you and your spouse can agree on, the less expensive the process will be because the attorneys are required to do less work on those cases. For example, if a couple is able to maintain the status quo regarding their living situation and finances during the pendency of the divorce, they don’t require the assistance of attorneys. If one spouse vacates the residence (particularly if it’s with the children), there is domestic violence in the home warranting removal of a spouse, or if a spouse stops contributing to the support of the family (paying the mortgage or household expenses), the attorney will likely need to file a motion to bring the issue to the attention of the court and seek relief from the judge. Each time a motion is filed, there is attorney time in preparing the motion, typically at least 2 court appearances associated with the motion, and preparation time in negotiating or prosecuting the motion.  This translates to hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal fees.  Another situation in which the cost of litigation is increased is those in which the value or status as martial/non-marital assets are at issue. This typically requires more discovery and investigation by the attorney which translates to a larger bill to the client. Finally, cases wherein the parents are unable to agree on parenting time, decision making, or other issues involving their children can be some of the most expensive cases. This is true for several reasons. First, they often require the involvement of third parties such as mediators, guardians ad litem, or evaluators. Second, it’s difficult for a judge to make recommendations on a parenting issue because the facts are often in dispute and therefore settlement can be more difficult. These are just a few examples of things that can increase the cost of divorce.

The good news is there are things that can be done to help reduce the legal fees you incur in the process. The first, and most obvious, is to pick your battles with your spouse and only litigate issues that matter. Work out insignificant issues amongst yourselves whenever possible or let things go that aren’t worth your time and money.  For example, don’t pay your lawyer to fight over the 10-year-old couch-surely by the time your legal bill is paid you could have secured a newer and maybe nicer couch. 

Additionally, have productive communication with your attorney. I recommend scheduling a telephone call with your attorney approximately every 2 weeks, although it may be more or less frequent depending on how new the case is and the specific circumstances.  By scheduling the call, you ensure the attorney is prepared to discuss your case (compared to catching them off guard when they haven’t reviewed the file or are in the middle of something else) and that you are proactive in what needs to be done to move your case along. You can create a list of questions for your attorney and ask them in a comprehensive call rather than making 5 calls or sending multiple emails, which can add up from a legal fee standpoint. Finally, the call ensures that you are updated on the case strategy and that you and your attorney are on the same page with next steps, which is an important part of the attorney-client relationship.

The attorneys at McSwain Nagle & Giese, P.C. are always mindful of the attorneys fees their clients are incurring and represent their clients effectively and efficiently. Contact our Wheaton divorce lawyers at 630-407-1200 today for a free initial consultation.

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