How Much Should A Divorce Cost?
The main question we get from prospective clients is How Much Should a Divorce Cost.
First, much is going to depend on the hourly rate of your attorney. All family court attorneys charge by the hour, and hourly rates range from a $150 per hour for associate attorneys to $400 and up for more experienced attorneys.
Generally, a contested case can be divided into three phases: The initial filing stage, the discovery stage, and the trial preparation/ trial stage.
Expect to be billed at least 12-20 hours at the initial filing stage. This will involve all things necessary to prepare for and attend a Temporary Hearing to establish certain status quo requirements such as temporary custody, child support, spousal support, use of the marital residence, autos etc. This is an extremely critical hearing because it will establish a “status quo” which may influence the ultimate outcome of your case. This stage will last about 90 days on average.
The next stage the discovery stage because this is the time when we will gather all the information we need to prove or defend your case. Most often we use the formal legal discovery process that will allow us to get all the information that we need to prepare your case for trial. If children are involved, the court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem at the Temporary Hearing, and the Guardian will be conducting their investigation during this stage. Expect your attorney to spend a minimum 20 hours during this stage, and depending on the complexity of your estate, easily as much as 50 hours. Also, the Guardian may well spend 25 hours (at about $150/hr), which is usually shared equally between mom and dad. Other professionals will be utilized during this stage as well, such as financial professionals and therapists. This stage could last between 3 and 9 months.
The final stage, the trial preparation/ trial stage, involves your attorney organizing everything that has been gathered during discovery, preparing the testimony for each and every witness, organizing exhibits, issuing subpoenas, designing the presentation of the case to the judge, and conducting the trial. This stage, including the trial of your case, will likely involve 40 to 60 hours for your attorney. A Guardian will prepare a report and attend trial, and spend as much as 20 hours, but could be more depending on the length of your trial. You can expect this stage to take another 3 to 6 months.
So add up the numbers and ask yourself “Am I feeling lucky today?” Whenever you leave a decision up to a third person, i.e. “The Judge”, the decision can go either way. An experienced divorce lawyer should do an excellent job of preparation and presentation, but don’t forget, there will be an attorney on the other side doing the same thing. In my nearly 20 years of trial work, I have never seen a trial happen exactly as planned. ALWAYS, something unexpected happens, usually more than once! Sometimes it matters a lot, sometimes not, but by the time it happens, it is often too late to fix it, and I am left having to deal with the consequences.
My recommendation- if you can avoid litigation, do so! On the other hand, you may be stuck with a recalcitrant, unreasonable spouse, and have no option but to spend the cash. In that case, you need to make sure you get an honest, hard working and highly qualified trial lawyer to assist you.