Legal Fees
Summary in Divorce

In a divorce, legal fees can run from a few hundreds (or less) for a simple uncontested, default divorce to thousands and thousands of dollars for a battle royal that goes to trial. Normally, the most expensive line item on a legal bill is the lawyer’s hourly fee, but fees for expert witnesses, such as forensic accountants (to track hidden assets) or child psychologists (in a custody fight) rapidly run up the bill. While it is impossible to generalize about legal fees, it is safe to say that legal work is expensive. And no one involved works for nothing.

As a general rule, the more work the spouses do, the less work for the lawyers -- and the less expensive the divorce is for the both of them. For example, a couple who can hammer out the terms and conditions of their property settlement, child custody and support agreements with each other and by themselves can dramatically reduce the costs of their divorce. If their respective lawyers do it, each spouse may end up paying $250 or more per hour for a lawyer’s time. The most expensive way to end a marriage is in a divorce trial, where a two-day trial in some parts of the country can easily cost $70,000, according to sources.

Generally, when a person retains a lawyer for a divorce, the attorney and client sign a retainer agreement, which is a contract between them spelling out the terms and conditions of the agreement. Most lawyers ask for an up-front retainer fee, against which he or she bills as the divorce progresses to completion. Lawyers are hourly workers, and they are the employees of the client. Lawyers bill for their time in small fractions of an hour, and charge for everything, including moral supporting in the form of unnecessary telephone calls from the client.

Legal fees do not include those costs incurred by an attorney as part of his or her work on the case -- standard expenses such as copying costs, service fees, telephone charges, travel expenses, filing fees, expert and witnesses.

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#259: If you want to avoid court, work with your spouse to reach and agreement on all your issues. Most divorces do end in settlement, unfortunately sometimes, it takes the reality of a trial to make the spouses realize that the judge's ruling would be too much of a surprise to bare.
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