Financial costs of divorce may often be significant. Divorce lawyers, like any other professionals, are paid according to their skill, training and experience. In Texas, one can expect to pay an advance deposit from $2,500 to $25,000 depending on the complexity of the legal issues involved, as well as the quality and expertise of counsel selected. In addition to the legal fees, some cases require “expert testimony” regarding the value of certain significant assets, i.e. business interests, the marital residence, rental properties, art work and more.
One reason most experienced divorce lawyers want a substantial retainer is that once an attorney files an appearance, they are charged with duties in their role as an officer of the court. Under law and court procedure an attorney must make appearances and file specific legal documents with little or no discretion depending on the opponent’s conduct. Initial filings and other documents may appear deceptively simple, but can challenge even the most patient person. The devil truly is in the details, especially where haggling parties look for disagreement. Even minor issues can blow up, and evolve into unnecessary expense.
Divorces involve complicated issues and many times it is necessary to have a temporary hearing sooner rather than later to sort out legal and monetary issues for the pendency of the divorce proceeding. Who will continue living in the home? Who will make mortgage payments? Who will make payments on automobiles? Who will pay certain credit cards? Who will pay utilities? Who will maintain the property? Who will be responsible for the debts? All questions must be carefully considered and weighed out.
In divorces with child related issues there are more complicated factors to be considered. Who will receive primary custody of the children? Where will the children live and how often? What school will the children attend? How will their education be paid? How much child support will be paid? What visitation schedule will work for the parents and the children? How, when and where will the child exchange take place? Which parent will maintain health insurance? Will the child’s residence be restricted to a particular geographical area?
In all cases, marital assets must be divided; and even if there are few marital assets and only marital debt, there remains much to fight about, or resolve.
The state of Texas makes it unethical for lawyers to take a divorce action on a “contingency fee” basis. That leaves only two ways for a divorce lawyer to be paid: by the hour, which is the most common; or on a flat fee basis. Hourly fees in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex area for a divorce lawyer range anywhere from $250 per hour to $550 per hour and up, depending on your choice.
In the cases where one party has a distinct financial advantage, the economically disadvantaged party can apply for temporary attorney fees and costs to be paid immediately by the party in control of the resources provided a fund is available for such use. In a proper case, such temporary motions often are granted by the trial court in order to level the playing field.
After every hearing, whether it concerns child related issues, marital assets, debts of the parties, or property owned by the parties, an order must be drawn by counsel based on either the court’s decision or the agreement of the parties. Many times these orders involve the drafting of further legal documents such as Deeds of Trust, Deeds of Trust to Secure Assumption; Special Warranty Deeds, and Real Estate Lien Notes relating to the parties home; Powers of Attorney to transfer title of automobiles; Wage Withholding Orders for the withholding of child support; and Austin forms (required by the Bureau of Vital Statistics in every divorce action). Often a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is necessary to divide retirement plans, accounts, pensions and the like. These are just a few of the necessary documents required in some divorce actions.
Bottom line is: the less the parties fight the less they will pay. Lingering animosities do not expedite resolution. Courts do not want to hear “he said/she said.” Whether that is right or wrong is for a social commentary, not a legal guide. That is why there are ‘irretrievable breakdown’ divorces.
Other factors that affect the cost of divorce are: whether the divorce is adversarial; how much you pay hourly for your legal counsel; if you and your spouse are battling over child custody issues involving children; the number of marital assets and debts you have to deal with; and whether your spouse’s attorney is unnecessarily aggressive and adversarial, without purpose.
When selecting a divorce lawyer know what you are looking for. Your counsel should be a person in whom you can put your total trust — after all your emotional health, the emotional health of your child(ren) and potentially the emotional health of your grandchildren could be at issue. The way to keep divorce costs under control is to select the right lawyer and to force your intellect to overrule your emotions when making decisions.