I see a lot of attorney bills and I buy a lot of lipstick. You can spend any amount of money on either one.
I bill my own divorce and family fees and I try to be transparent, so I put a tab on my law firm website that sets forth the average fees for cases in my office for 2021. I am routinely asked to testify as to the reasonableness of other attorney’s fees in domestic relations court. I have served upon the Montgomery County fee dispute committee where I have heard from disgruntled clients about divorce fees that they believe are too high. I have been a client and I have paid legal fees I consider exorbitant for the services received.
Divorce Attorney Consultation
I charge for an initial divorce consultation because “time is my stock in trade,” as Abraham Lincoln put it. This means that I have only so many hours at my disposal and I need to make those hours count. What can you expect during our consultation?
During the initial consultation, I will gather important background information that centers around your date of marriage; any children and their ages; whether there was a prenuptial agreement; whether there was a bankruptcy or if either party brought any property or debt to the marriage. During the your divorce consultation we will also inventory your assets and debts and make a determination if we believe they are separate property (usually not subject to division) or marital. Retirement rights will also be reviewed, especially is one party is a government employee not earning social security benefits. Finally, if necessary, we will cover the basics of possible parenting arrangements and begin to explore what is in the best interests of the children.
How Are Fees Calculated?
New clients always want an estimate of the anticipated my divorce attorney services costs for their case. Here is an overview of things to consider in the calculation of your divorce case:
“Costs” are funds that do not go to the attorney (even though the attorney may handle their payment from the client’s trust balance) but go instead to the various participants in the case. The court always charges a filing fee to start the case and calculate total costs at the conclusion of the case. Process servers charge to serve documents on your opposing party. Experts such as real estate appraisers, business evaluators, accountants, court reporters, psychologists and Guardian Ad Litems all have to be paid. All these expenses are borne by the client and the attorney makes nothing from these costs. These costs are always causally related to the time spent and complexity of the issue. Obviously, a process server who hands the documents to your ex on the first try will cost far less than a process server who stakes out your ex’s house or job for hours, waiting for him/her to leave. An accountant who reviews reams of business records and conducts a site visit will cost far more than preparing a tax return at H&R Block.
Added Divorce Fees
Divorce cases also have added material costs. By this I mean copying charges, electronic data storage and copying, exhibit labels and anything specific to your case. I have never met a lawyer who charges for pens and paper; but I have seen many who have a client code to bill the client for every single copy. My office does not charge for copies unless they exceed a ream of paper. Many businesses that we subpoena charge for copies (especially medical providers) and these costs are borne by the client.
Flat Fee or Hourly Rate Divorce Lawyer
The big-ticket item in a divorce is always the attorney. Contingent fees are not allowed in Ohio divorce cases, so your case will usually be on an hourly basis. Some cases are billed as a flat fee. For example, if you have a contested custody case, I will bill it hourly because it is difficult to accurately predict what may happen. If, however, you have an agreed upon change of custody, I will often charge a flat fee because there are specific, limited documents that must be filed. Regardless, I work from a written fee agreement with every client.
The hourly rate depends upon the attorney’s experience and credentials, as well as the locale. Newbie attorneys in New York City bill at a high hourly rate than I do in Dayton, Ohio. Paralegal time is often billed to the client. The theory is that a paralegal can prepare documents for a lower hourly rate than the attorney. I am skeptical of this approach because the attorney still must supervise the paralegal, and this takes attorney time. The fewer meters running, the less cost to the client.
Anne Harveys Bottom Line
If I can control your expectations, I can control of the cost of your divorce case. If you have a choice, always aim for reasonable as opposed to total victory. If your opponent is vindictive and has no objective other than to search and destroy, then your only choice is to defend yourself legally. These are the saddest cases because they usually lead to the worst client experience and the highest overall legal costs.