Divorce is a time of great financial stress on a family. Throughout the process, the family often maintains separate households, has debts that need to be paid, and then also need to pay an attorney. Before you hire an attorney, you should have a clear understanding of the fees that you will be charged, as well as what expenses you will be responsible for. It is always best to sign a fee agreement, which will outline the fees, expenses and retainers.
Family law attorneys and their staff generally charge by the hour in increments such as every six minutes. You will be billed for any time spent on your case, including meetings, emails, drafting pleadings and correspondence, telephone calls, hearing preparation, travel and waiting time at court. Hourly rates vary widely, depending mostly on experience. Family law attorneys cannot charge contingent fees where they are paid by a percentage of an amount recovered (for example a portion of a child support arrearage).
A client will often be asked to provide a retainer, which is a sum of money paid up front to secure payment of any fees that are incurred. A retainer will range from very small ($500) to very large ($10,000) depending on the attorney that you hire and the level of complexity of your case. Although most retainers or the unused portion of the retainer are refundable, sometimes the retainer is not refundable.
Finally, attorneys will charge for a variety of expenses, including filing fees, sheriff fees, long distance phone calls, fax fees, copies, postage and mileage. Generally, if the fee relates to your case, whether it be a $21.00 fee from the sheriff for serving papers or a $500.00 fee from a stenographer for a deposition, you will be charged for the expense.