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Divorce and Legal Fees


By Maury D. Beaulier, Esquire

HOW MUCH WILL THE DIVORCE COST

It is difficult to determine how much a divorce will cost. However, after reviewing the likely issues, your method for resolving those issues, and hearing your philosophy of the case, a lawyer may be able to give you a range of expected expenses. Controlling the expenses in a divorce, however, is no easy task. Many of the factors contributing to legal costs are outside of your lawyers control. The personality and philosophy of the your spouse's attorney can affect the ultimate path that your divorce takes. Additionally, the ability of the parties to cooperate and communicate may also have a significant impact.

WRITTEN RETAINER AGREEMENTS

Your attorney is required to provide you with a written retainer agreement identifying the costs and hourly fees that will apply to your case. It is important that you read this document carefully and ask questions regarding any unclear issues. Signing a retainer agreement does not mean that you cannot fire your lawyer or that your lawyer cannot withdraw from the case. You may change lawyers at any time. The retainer agreement, however, will memorialize the terms of your billing relationship with the attorney. Once you have signed the retainer agreement, it is a legally binding and enforceable contract. Always keep a copy of your retainer agreement for later reference.

FLAT FEES

Fees charged by lawyers can vary from state to state and county to county. You may find a lawyer who charges a fixed flat fee for motions after a divorce or for uncontested proceedings where the parties have reached an agreement. In such instances, the amount of work which must be performed by the lawyer can be easily determined. This is a favorable payment method since you will know at the outset the total cost of the proceeding which will allow you to budget accordingly.

HOURLY FEES

In most contested cases, you will find that lawyers will bill out their time at an hourly rate. Although rates vary, you may expect your lawyer to bill out services at an hourly rate between $75 and $250 per hour. Reduced hourly rates may apply to services that are performed by associate attorneys, paralegals, law clerks or legal assistants in your attorney's office. Hourly rates are influenced by your attorney's legal experience, reputation and the demand for his/her services.

MINIMUM FEES

Lawyers may also charge minimum fees for specific services that are billed out as part of the divorce proceeding. For example, drafting a Motion or a Petitioner may be billed out at a flat rate of $200. You should discuss with your lawyer any minimum fees that may be applicable to your case.

MINIMUM BILLING INCREMENTS

Your lawyer may also bill out services based on a minimum billing increment. For example, your lawyer may bill out his or her time in twelve minute increments or two tenths of an hour. That means for any service no matter how short, the lawyers time is rounded up to the nearest twelve minute increment.

COSTS

In addition to your legal fees, you may be required to pay any costs that are incurred by your lawyer that are associated with your case. Costs may included charges for any filing fees, copies, mileage, faxing, service of papers, postage and parking. It is important for you to review and understand the costs that you are likely to incur.

EXPERTS

You may also be required to cover any costs related to necessary experts. Experts may be used to provide medical testimony or appraisals of real estate, business assets or personal property. Independent custody evaluators may be hired to perform a custody study or vocational experts may be necessary to determine what financial support is necessary. The need for experts depends greatly on the issues of your case. You should consult with your lawyer regarding the potential need for experts in your case and an estimate of the costs.

RETAINERS

Your attorney may request a "retainer fee". This is an advance payment against which any hourly fees and/or costs are assessed. The retainer is a form of security deposit to ensure payment of future legal fees.

PAYMENT ARRANGEMENTS

Most lawyers will require you to remain current on your legal fees. The reason for this, is that each month the lawyer must pay offices expenses related to rent, payroll, advertising and other overhead. Some attorneys may even require a new retainer when the original retainer is exhausted. If you are unable to remain current, you do have options that can be discussed with your lawyer.

Security for Fees

You may secure your legal fees by providing a lien against a marital or non-marital asset. Be sure to review any agreements related to security interests carefully. Moreover, if a security interests relates to real estate, it is necessary for your attorney to inform you that you have the right to have the agreement reviewed by separate counsel.

Wage Assignment

You may also suggest to your attorney a wage assignment which ensures a consistent monthly payment toward your legal fees.

Credit Cards

Most law offices will accept credit card payments.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Over the past twelve years, Maury D. Beaulier has developed a large and active family law practice which includes mediation and collaborative law. Mr. Beaulier has been described by his clients as "skilled", "aggressive" and "dedicated" to resolving complex and emotionally charged disputes. Mr. Beaulier is licensed to practice law in the States of Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as the Federal Courts in Minnesota and the Western District of Wisconsin. Mr. Beaulier is also a member of Minnesota's Collaborative Law Institute helping to develop new procedures in family law case.


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