What You Need to Know About the Cost of Your Divorce

Hourly rates for California divorce attorneys vary from $200 to $800 per hour depending upon the various levels of expertise, experience, and training that the lawyer and law firm offers. Fee structures also vary widely.

The most common arrangement is one where an initial retainer is paid which is held by the attorney. The work is billed “against that retainer.” This means that every time you receive your billing statement (which should be sent on a monthly basis) the work that the attorney did will be listed with the amount of time that it took. The amount that you were charged is then subtracted from the funds held in the retainer.

You will also incur costs. Costs are charges that are necessarily incurred to get divorced. They differ from fees in that they are paid to someone or some place other than the attorney. Examples of costs incurred are:

  • Filing fees with the Clerk of the Court
  • Court reporter fees and transcripts
  • Appraisal fees
  • Process server fees

You will also pay for things like copies, postage, faxes, and in some cases long distance phone calls.

Helpful hints:

  1. Be sure the written contract you enter into with your attorney clearly states the fee arrangement. You are bound by that document: it is a legally binding contract.
  2. Ask your prospective attorney if different tasks are billed at different rates. Often attorneys employ associate attorneys and paralegals to do some of the work. They are typically billed at a lower rate than the lead attorney.
  3. Determine what happens when the initial retainer is exhausted. Does the contract require another deposit?

What You Can Do:

  1. Have reasonable expectations: Your attorney’s job includes educating you as to what the law and rules require. She can help you understand how a Court will likely rule. Listen to her. If you choose to not listen and insist on going to Court you are going to incur fees that could have been avoided.
  2. Know when to compromise: Once you and your attorney have determined the value of your assets and the extent of your debt she should be able to advise you as to how the case may come out. No attorney knows everything and no one’s crystal ball is perfect, but it is important for her to share with you what she thinks the likely outcome will be. The other side will see things differently. Try to understand that side’s position even though you do not like it. If he or she are raising reasonable points you will need to consider those ideas and you may need to adjust your expectations accordingly.
  3. Don’t hide the ball: Do not resist providing the required information to your attorney and the other side. Our system is based on full disclosure.  This is particularly true if you are self-employed. Your spouse is entitled to know all about your business. The attorney has to find all of it out and will go to Court to force you to cooperate if need be. Delay only drives up the costs and fees.