The cost of a divorce is almost always one of the most critical issues facing a person as they prepare for a divorce. If you are in a position where you are either contemplating a divorce or require a lawyer's assistance in responding to a petition for divorce filed by your spouse, then you have come to the right place. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan would like to share with you some information on the basics of attorney's fees in a divorce case. We can move on to more in-depth material on what your divorce may end up costing you when it is all said and done.
What is a retainer fee?
I think before we can even begin discussing this topic, we need to define our terms. A retainer fee is a down payment that you make towards the hiring of an attorney. The amount will retain that attorney's services for you for the length of your divorce. Part of paying a retainer will be signing a contract that defines the scope of the attorney-client relationship. Both you and your attorney will have the ability to end the relationship for a good cause, lack of communication, and other allowable reasons under state law.
The key to understanding attorney's fees in a family law case, like a divorce, as opposed to a personal injury case, is that family law attorneys bill by the hour during personal injury attorneys bill on a contingency fee basis. If you are injured in an automobile accident and wish to pursue an injury claim against the at-fault driver's insurance company, you may hire an attorney to represent you.
That attorney will represent you without needing a retainer in most cases. Instead, a personal injury attorney will have you sign a contract that promises them a certain percentage (33.3%, for example) of whatever settlement proceedings you end up winning from the insurance company of the at-fault driver. As such, you will not need to pay that lawyer any money at the outset of your relationship.
Family law attorneys, and most attorneys, for that matter, do not work on a contingency fee basis—family law attorneys bill by the hour. The attorney will likely tell you how much they charge per hour worked on your case within the contract you sign. The other attorneys in their office, support staff, and paralegals will also have an hourly rate assigned to them. For every hour worked on your case, your attorney or employee will charge you for that time spent working.
As such, your account with your attorney must stay well-funded so that your case doesn't fall behind where it needs to be in terms of work, and your attorney's office can be paid for rendering services to you and your case. There are points in a divorce case where a lot of work has to be done and other times where little work needs to be done on your topic. It all depends on the stage of where your case is.
Stages of a divorce and what costs you are likely to encounter
At the beginning of a divorce case, some costs are associated with your divorce that are somewhat predictable. Let's look at what those costs maybe if you are the spouse who files for divorce. Once you pay your retainer, sign your attorney-client contract, and meet with your attorney, your divorce petition will need to be filed. There are fees associated with filing a divorce case that vary depending on the county where you reside. Somewhere between $300-$400 to file a divorce (with or without children) is reasonable to expect for your divorce.
On top of that, your attorney will be billing you for the work performed in preparing and drafting the document associated with filing for your divorce. Remember to check out the hourly billing rate of your attorney so that you can have a reasonable estimate of what it will cost to file your divorce. A divorce petition is usually a very long or in-depth document, but the attorney will want to ensure no mistakes.
Hiring a process server to serve your spouse with notice of the divorce is another minor fee associated with your case. Since these are somewhat predictable costs that an attorney will encounter on behalf of all their clients, the retainer you pay is typically a perfect estimate of what it will take to get your case off the ground. After that, your attorney will likely need you to pay additional funds to ensure the work that needs to be done in your case gets done on time and in full.
You need to know upfront about retainer fees and costs in a divorce because the attorney does not control how much your case ends up costing you in terms of dollars spent. True, the attorney will set the retainer fee amount, but, usually, the retainer reflects the likely costs that your divorce will run at the beginning of the case. The more complex, complicated, or contentious your issue is, the more your case will cost. The more time needs to be committed to a topic, the more complex it is.
Where does a retainer fee go once you pay it to the lawyer?
Occasionally an inquiring attorney will ask me where the money goes to pay us as a retainer fee. I think some people imagine the lawyer running to the bank to deposit the client's check directly into their bank account. From there, the hypothetical client may believe that the lawyer will spend that money on fancy suits and steak dinners. The truth of the matter is that this money never touches a lawyer's bank account.
Your initial retainer payment will go into a trust account. The trust account is where the client's money goes to never intermingle with the lawyer's personal history. This keeps things nice and "clean" from an ethical perspective. The money you have paid our firm in the trust account has the hours our office has billed deducted from that number. Any money left in the trust account after your case may be returned to you at the end of your case.
On the other hand, you may need to pay the law office additional sums of money as your case progresses. It all depends on the lawyer you select to represent you, the initial retainer in your case, and the type of divorce you have. If yours is an attorney who charges a substantial retainer at the outset of your case, it may be that you don't need to pay any additional sums of money after that. On the other hand, if you signed up with your attorney at a relatively low retainer fee, you will likely need to make monthly payments to your attorney as your case proceeds.
What sort of retainer fee could you end up paying in your Texas divorce?
Just like people going through divorces come in all shapes and sizes, attorneys do as well. You can find an attorney who is willing to accept a very low retainer for representation. An amount of $1,500 may be what this type of lawyer charges. However, attorneys who will receive a retainer at that level will commonly be inexperienced, unwilling to do much work on your case- or both. Lawyers typically do not work for free- although you may be able to find a lawyer who will take your case on a pro bono (no charge basis) if you are not working or lack assets to sell to pay for a lawyer.
For the most part, however, a divorce retainer in the Houston area would typically run you between $2,500 and $5,000. If you choose to hire a lawyer with fancy furniture, a great deal of experience, or some other quality such as these, the retainer can be much, much more than $5,000. Again, it depends on how much money you are willing to spend, the attorney you select, your location in the state of Texas, and the complexity of your case.
What aspects of divorce tend to increase the overall cost of your case?
I have already mentioned to you a couple of times that the more complex your case is-or at least the more contentious your case- tends to increase the costs associated with it. The most controversial and important issue in a divorce case relates to children. If you and your spouse cannot agree on which of you the child should live with on a full-time basis after the divorce, this will almost surely cause your case to run a little more expensive. Parents are typically willing to spend more money on their case when their kids are at issue than on any other subject.
Suppose you have a family business that needs to be divided in the divorce or other significant financial assets that are part of your community estate. In that case, these can be factors that increase the length and cost of your divorce will increase. Assets like a business need to be valued, and then a plan will need to be developed between you and your spouse on how you would like to divide the asset. The same can be said for debts.
The other category that more expensive divorces tend to fall into involves difficult opposing spouses or difficult opposing attorneys. These are things that you and your attorney have little to no control over. It is not uncommon for challenging people to be attracted to one another. Don't be surprised if your spouse hires an attorney who likes to fight if she wants to fight.
A fire, it is said, needs oxygen to stay aflame. In the context of a divorce case, this same concept holds. Your spouse and their attorney may want to fight tooth and nail with you. That desire to fight may be justified, or it may not be. However, if you go about your business, have your attorney advocate for you, but not engage in the fighting with your spouse, you have a better opportunity to decrease fighting and decrease costs associated with your case.
How can you find out what has been charged on your case so far?
If you have decided to hire our law office to represent you in a divorce case, you will be able to call our office during business hours and request an accounting of any charges made against your case by your attorney and their staff. This will allow you to get a much better idea about what your patient has a cost and what it is likely to cost in the future.
If you have questions about your bill, we have team members equipped to answer your questions. Your attorney will be more than happy to sit down with you and walk through the work done on your case, as well. It is your case, and you have the right to know what's happening.
Questions about retainer fees or other costs of a divorce? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the information contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are great opportunities for you to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your particular case. Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with us today, and we look forward to you joining us tomorrow as we post another blog related to issues in Texas family law.