It is a true privilege to work with, and for, our clients, and I have the unique opportunity to get to know (really know) each of the clients we assist. While we are always very clear on how we bill our clients, after the first invoice is received, or the first invoice showing that your retainer has been exhausted, I also have the duty of explaining how and why our office charged for certain tasks. It is at this time that I am asked “How much is this going to cost me?” or “Why should I pay an attorney when all the forms are found online?”
How Much Is This Going to Cost Me?
This question is never easy to answer, and most of our clients are okay with that, so long as they understand why some divorce cases may cost $5,000 while others will cost $20,000. Because the majority of family law attorneys and staff charge an hourly rate, it is very difficult to gage what a case will cost from start to finish, as there’s no way to predict, down to the hour, how long a case will take to bring to completion.
Determining how much a case will cost also has to do with the personalities of the parties involved, as well as their attorneys, and the Judge assigned to the case. And because our courts understand that parents should know what is best for their children, more so than the Judge will, the Judge wants cases to attempt mediation prior to setting a final hearing. As such, a big aspect of any divorce is the negotiation phase. Unfortunately, most of the time, clients are still grieving the loss of their marriage, and the give-and-take of negotiating a settlement is far from their minds.
While your attorney will guide you along the way and off legal advice regarding any exposure you will have before a Judge in a hearing, their advice can be hard to accept. All parents want more time with their children; all parents want to pay less in child and/or spousal support; and all parents want to obtain a greater-than-equal value after distributing assets and debt. So, when your attorney tells you an offer from your spouse’s attorney is a good one—one they have seen your Judge award in other, similar cases—it is sometimes a knee-jerk reaction to immediately decline the offer. It is cases like these—where a client’s judgment is still clouded by heartache, fear, spite, and/or anger toward the other, and a refusal to follow the guidance of their attorney—that can begin a long and expensive case.
Alternatively, some cases are already complex by nature. Maybe there are allegations of abuse and you are protecting your children; maybe there is a marital business that needs to be addressed; or, maybe there are significant assets and liabilities that require distribution. In order to gain the best outcome, your attorney will conduct extensive research, hire experts, interview witnesses and compile information so they can tell your story to the Judge assigned to your case and be up to date on all recent legislative changes and case law. Fortunately, cases that require this type of litigation are usually evident during the consultation, so your attorney will be able to prepare you if they anticipate a high-cost divorce.
Why Should I Pay an Attorney When All the Forms Are Online?
It is also common for clients to wonder “Why should I pay you?” after being quoted a retainer fee. While it is true that all required documents can be found online, completed by the client, and filed with the Clerk, what most people do not realize is that if their case is contested, and they have children, the Judge has to consider 13 factors before determining a permanent timesharing arrangement. The Judge will consider testimony of witnesses and evidence before awarding timesharing. In these cases, there are no forms online to help prepare when gathering the appropriate and relevant information to benefit your position. It takes a skilled and experienced attorney, one familiar with your Judge and his or her personality and what information will resonate with him/her, to be able to argue your cause.
Lastly, by nature, divorce cases can be highly emotional and traumatizing to all parties and children involved. The daily stresses of work, parenthood, and life are difficult enough; add the emotion, fear, anxiety and sadness that will likely accompany a divorce in litigation, and competent counsel advocating on your behalf will be tantamount to saving sanity. More often than not, the comfort in having an experienced attorney advocating and fighting for your best interest is worth every penny required; because there is no substitute for peace of mind.