Many of the people who contact me for representation in a contested divorce case are interacting with the legal system for the first time. That’s usually a good thing. Sometimes they’ve called other attorneys before calling me, and have already learned that the legal fees associated with a contested divorce can range from expensive to really expensive, depending on the issues presented, the degree of animosity and the particular attorney(s) they contacted. They’re often looking for the best deal available, and I can’t say I blame them. But here’s a bit of hard truth about the high legal fees associated with a contested divorce… If you’re involved in a contested divorce, you don’t want it to be cheap.
Let’s start with the definition of a contested divorce. Simply put, in a contested divorce, the parties do not agree on one or more of the issues. What are the issues you ask? Custody, visitation, child support, property division and spousal support. Important, often life-altering stuff. If the parties to a divorce agree on all of these issues, and they often do, then the divorce can be filed with a marital settlement agreement, and a host of other documents, thus avoiding lengthy court hearings and high legal fees. However, if the parties disagree about the proper resolution of ANY one or more of the five issues stated above, they must go to court and ask the court to resolve the case based upon the evidence presented. That’s where it get’s expensive. And let’s be honest, even if every attorney had the same level of knowledge and experience, more costs more and less costs less.
Any lawsuit starts with a deluge of meetings, research, analyzing, drafting, filing, teleconferencing, deposing, organizing and negotiating. That’s before the court appearances start. Then the attorney travels, argues and continues to engage in meetings, research, analyzing, drafting… You get the point. Every attorney brings there on background and experience, skill set and style to a divorce case, but it takes time and skill to resolve a contested divorce, and that costs money.
So, if you’re involved in a contested divorce, you’ve identified something very valuable to you, but your estranged spouse is trying to take it away from you. How much do you want to fight for what you want? What is this particular thing worth to you? Are you being reasonable about your demands? Are you likely to succeed even if you do fight like hell? What do experienced family law attorneys charge in your geographic area? Is the attorney capable of appealing the trial court decision if you are dissatisfied with the decision? Is your attorney prepared to engage in serious settlement negotiations or mediation to resolve the case? There are countless other questions and unavoidable decisions that must be made, and none of them are easy. All of the answers will affect the cost of the divorce and your decision to invest in the case.
This is not a rant. Again, I completely understand the desire to be efficient with one’s finances. But if your going to file for a divorce, and it won’t be the friendly sort, be prepared to fight for what you want and to invest in that decision. Given the opportunity, your attorney will stand with you and fight for the things that matter most.