The answer to this question is: it depends. The only way to know how much your divorce will cost is if you can enter into a flat rate fee agreement with your attorney. However, flat rate contested divorces are not possible when issues are in dispute (such as property division, debt and asset allocation, spousal support, child visitation, child support, etc.)
In short, divorces and legal services in general will cost you thousands of dollars. An uncontested divorce will cost you considerably less. If you litigate your case all the way to trial, I guarantee that you’ll be spending a significant amount in fees. When possible, if you can reach a reasonable settlement agreement, you will usually save on fees.
In general, the more time and work involved in a case, the more client meetings, the more phone calls and e-mails, the more court appearances, the more property issues, the more you will have to spend.
There are also other factors such as:
Who is your attorney?
Your geographic area, city/town, law office or law firm, and the level of your attorney’s experience will affect hourly rates. A small law office will generally not charge as much as a law firm, because the overhead and operating costs are significantly less. In Cumberland County, your divorce will likely cost more than a divorce in Aroostook County. Inquire about your attorney’s hourly rates. Inquire how they bill their time. (Do they charge for travel to and from the court house? Do they charge you mileage and tolls in addition to their hourly rates?)
Who is your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s attorney? (Or do they have one?)
The concern when litigating any matter is always – who is on the other side? What is the practice style and/or personalities of the parties involved? Does your spouse have a lawyer and if so, who is it? Or, is your spouse representing themselves (and are they totally unreasonable)? Dealing with an unrepresented party can sometimes bring a host of challenges, but usually divorces proceed more efficiently and smoothly when both parties are represented by counsel. On the other hand, some attorneys have high case volumes and this can create delays in litigation and sometimes unfortunately increase fees for all parties. Some attorneys do not spend as much time counseling clients in setting realistic expectations, and this might delay settlement. For example, if you’re trying in good faith to settle with a spouse who doesn’t understand that XYZ will likely be the outcome in front of a judge anyways and it’d therefore make sense to settle, then you may have an uphill battle.
What are the issues in dispute?
Generally speaking, the higher value of item (or items) in dispute, the longer your case may take, thereby increasing your attorneys fees. Parties oftentimes, for example, don’t waste time arguing over furniture because the value just isn’t there. Spousal support awards can sometimes be lucrative for parties to litigate, if the other party is being unreasonable in reaching a settlement. Property division and marital home equity can sometimes remain in dispute after receiving different appraisals, and a trial before a judge may be needed to make an ultimate finding. In short, the more issues contested in your divorce, the longer – and therefore more expensive – your divorce will be.
Are you willing to settle?
When possible, a settlement agreement (which is very common in family law cases) saves all parties not only financial costs, but emotional costs. Sometimes, a day or two long trial is simply not worth it. If you’re willing to settle, and the other party is being equally (or almost as equally) reasonable as you, you oftentimes can finalize your divorce in a much shorter time period and move forward.
Are you organized?
I ask clients for a lot of information and documentation prior to filing their divorce, and during the divorce process. The faster you can provide your attorney with all information requested, the more you will save on fees. If your attorney has to constantly check-in and request information from you, you can be sure that they will bill you for that time spent.
Do you have realistic goals and expectations?
My job is to help my clients reach their goals while being cognizant of the limits of Maine law and their rights under Maine law. I cannot stress how important it is for clients to have realistic goals and expectations when they hire an attorney. It is very unlikely, for example, that a parent will get complete “custody” of their child. Or, that you’ll get an amount of spousal support that would result in your soon-to-be ex-spouse having a household income even lower than your new household. Sometimes, cases do need to be litigated all the way to a trial. Sometimes, negotiations between attorneys is enough, and sometimes, the help of an experienced family law mediator can help you resolve your case. When you hire an attorney, make sure that you share your hopes, goals, and expectations upfront. Good, experienced attorneys set realistic expectations and work with clients to set realistic goals.