By Elspeth Crawford
If you’re thinking about getting a divorce, the odds are very good that you have a lot of stressful issues to consider. The last thing you want to think about is how you’re going to afford your attorney. You’ve probably heard horror stories about how much divorce can cost, and indeed, many divorce attorneys are very expensive.
On the other hand, there are many affordable divorce attorneys as well. Selecting the right divorce attorney for your budget requires understanding how divorce attorneys charge for their services, researching divorce attorney fees, and selecting the right attorney. This article will teach you the basics about how divorce attorney fees are calculated.
Most of the time, divorce is a contentious procedure. The word “contentious” is a legal term that means that the parties disagree. The disagreement could pertain to any of a number of issues, from who gets custody of the children to how to divide marital assets. The point is that whenever there is a disagreement, there will be an uphill battle to resolve the disagreement. Since neither you nor your attorney knows how long it will take to reach a resolution, it is difficult for the attorney to estimate, in advance, how much the divorce will cost. The disagreement may be resolved in a day, or it may take a year. If it takes a year, it’s only fair that the attorney be paid for a year’s worth of work. If it takes a day, on the other hand, the divorce will be far less costly. In order to deal with this uncertainty, most divorce attorneys will charge on an hourly basis. That way, no matter how long it takes to resolve the disagreement, the price of the legal services will reflect the amount of work performed by the attorney.
Some people are uncomfortable with paying by the hour because they feel that it misaligns the incentives of the divorce attorney and the client: the divorce attorney maximizes his revenue by working more hours, while the client saves the most money by minimizing the number of hours worked. While this concern is 100% legitimate, there is really no way to avoid billable hours. As long as there is contention involved in the divorce, there will be uncertainty, and as long as there is uncertainty, the attorney will have to charge by the hour.
On the other hand, if there is no disagreement, then there is practically no uncertainty, which opens up the door to alternative forms of billing. This situation is called an uncontested divorce. If you and your former spouse agree on all of the issues, including how to divide all of the marital property, who gets custody, how to arrange visitation rights, etc., then it becomes very easy to execute a divorce. In this case, there is essentially no uncertainty, and any good attorney worth his/her salt will be able to tell, in advance, how much time and effort will be involved. In this case, the attorney will be able to quote you a flat fee for his or her services. This is called an uncontested divorce or a flat fee divorce.
Almost every family law attorney will be willing to do your divorce on a flat fee basis, provided that you and your spouse agree on all of the issues. That is to say, it’s not the case that some divorce attorneys are inherently flat fee divorce attorneys and others are hourly divorce attorneys. It really just depends on the circumstances between you and your former spouse.
However, as a word of caution, many more people believe that they are in perfect agreement with their former spouse than actually are in agreement. Often times, people agree in principle, but when it comes time to really hammer out the details of a separation agreement, they realize that they don’t see eye to eye. As a result, if you tell a divorce attorney that you want an uncontested divorce, they may be skeptical as to whether or not you’re your situation is truly uncontested. Don’t take this as a sign of mistrust or bad communication. Instead, it’s simply a sign that the attorney is being thorough and doing his job. Go through all of the facts, and the attorney will soon be able to assess your situation, and give you the most accurate quote available.