This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland
- The complexity of your case is a cost factor but the size of the marital estate may not be a major factor.
- Cost may depend on opposing counsel.
- Retainers and hourly rates aren’t always indicators of projected costs.
- You can minimize the cost of your divorce case by being a cooperative participant.
- Adopting realistic expectations will reduce costs in the long run.
What will my divorce cost? This is one of the most frequently asked questions of divorce lawyers at an initial consultation. Every client should make sure to have this discussion up front. But don’t be surprised if the answer is: “it depends,” because it does depend on many factors, some of which are outlined below.
The Complexity of Your Case
A common myth is that it is related to the wealth of the parties. This is not necessarily true. Some of our ultra-high income/high net-worth cases in Greenwich and Westport are the simplest ones. Conversely, some of the very moderate financial cases can be trickier, and thus more time consuming. Custody cases are by nature protracted and typically costly. But certain cases that at the outset appear to be custody cases, are really more about parenting time and access, and thus resolvable in a reasonable time frame.
Experience, abilities and approaches vary widely amongst counsel in Fairfield County and beyond. We typically ask, “Who will be representing your spouse?” As experienced lawyers, that gives us great insight into how the case will be handled. Will opposing counsel be inclined to work cooperatively and collaboratively? Or will we experience scorched earth tactics? The answers to questions such as these provide a window for us as to the tenor of the case, and consequently, the cost.
Retainers and Hourly Rates
You will find these will vary from lawyer to lawyer and deciphering the projected cost of your case can sometimes be confusing. Divorce lawyers are free to set retainers as they see fit. But be careful. Don’t project costs on the retainer alone. Some divorce lawyers may quote low retainers but will be entitled to receive refresher retainers if your retainer funds run out. Other lawyers may have higher retainers and then will refund any portion not used. Virtually all divorce lawyers bill for their time as they go along. Hourly rates for divorce lawyers vary widely but again, the hourly rate doesn’t tell the whole story. A very experienced divorce lawyer may charge $750 per hour and a much less experienced may charge $500 per hour. At first blush, you may be inclined to think the lower rate is more cost effective. However, the very experienced lawyer may move through your case a lot quicker, requiring less preparation and research. It may be hard to do the analysis since most divorce litigants are new at this, but you should be able to get a better feel for it once you have your initial meeting with counsel. Also, you can hopefully rely on your referral source for further clarity.
Cooperation with Counsel
Most often there are opportunities to streamline costs by cooperating with your lawyer, especially with regard to discovery. This means taking the initiative on your own to assemble documents which we know you will be required to produce. Responding to your lawyer’s e-mails and calls in a prompt manner also saves time and money. Clearly developing an agenda prior to a call or meeting will result in greater efficiency.
Adopt Realistic Expectations for the Resolution of Your Case
So often, too much time is wasted on staking out unrealistic positions or posturing for a perceived tactical gain. Most divorces involve negotiations, so to some extent there will naturally be some back and forth, but it is critical to be strategic rather than adversarial. An experienced divorce lawyer can provide you with a context for settlement or a likely outcome after trial. You should rely on that advice and be amenable to working through your case in an efficient way to achieve the likely result. It can be a pyrrhic victory to achieve your best case scenario, only to pay more in fees than it cost to achieve that result.
Despite the cost-saving measures discussed above, there are certain aspects of divorce litigation that sometimes cannot be controlled and which will drive up costs. The court system itself is often riddled with delays and unexpected twists and turns, which are not the fault of your lawyer. At Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, we have vast experience in litigating and settling divorce cases and always strive to make our cases most cost-effective for our clients.