Frequently Asked Questions: Attorneys’ Fees and Costs in Divorce Cases
I don't want the divorce; why should I have to pay for it?
We all have expenses for things that we do not anticipate. We do not intend to get sick or hurt; however, if we need medical attention, we are required to pay the medical bills. If you are involved in a divorce and elect to be represented by counsel, you are expected to pay for those legal services even if you have no desire to be divorced.
Why do lawyers charge the fees that they do?
Lawyers are professionals who run a business which has overhead and other costs. Supply and demand as well as location all influence legal fees. Lawyers, who are in great demand, have family law expertise or legal certifications generally charge higher fees. Attorneys located in large metropolitan areas are usually more expensive.
How much will my divorce cost?
It is impossible to predict how much a divorce will cost. However, your lawyer may be able to provide an estimated fee range. The final cost is dependent on several factors, many beyond your lawyer's control. These factors include the lawyer that your spouse hires, the complexity of the issues in your case, how you and your spouse behave during the divorce litigation, which court your case is assigned to and whether your case proceeds to a full trial on the merits. As a general rule, the more issues you and your spouse can agree upon, the lower your legal fees will be.
Is there anything I can do to help keep the fees down?
Of course. First, be actively involved in your case. Take the time to learn and understand what's going on. Ask questions. Follow your lawyer's instructions. Volunteer to help with the work whenever possible. Have reasonable expectations of your lawyer and your case. Seek ways to settle your issues. Don't insist on fighting to the bitter end over small issues or "the principle". When talking to your lawyer, avoid long detailed dramatic stories unless your lawyer indicates they need the details.
Can I make my spouse pay my fees?
A court may order a spouse to contribute to the fees of the other spouse based upon a disparity of financial resources or unreasonable positions and/or conduct during the case. However, seeking and obtaining that type of order does not change your obligation to pay the balance that you owe to your own lawyer. Many lawyers do not accept cases on the possibility that the other spouse will be required to pay.
Why does my lawyer charge me every time we talk on the phone or I send an e-mail?
Abraham Lincoln said, "A lawyer's time and advice is his stock in trade." It is still true. Time spent talking on the phone, or reading your e-mail, is just as valuable as the other time your lawyer spends on your case. There are several ways you can minimize fees for phone calls. Accumulate several questions, write them down and ask them all during one call. E-mail may be more effective as several specific questions can be dealt with more efficiently than a long phone call. If a phone call is needed, stay on point.
What if I can't pay for appraisers and other experts?
If you don't have money to hire experts, you may have no choice but to proceed without experts. It may also be possible to get a court order for expert's fees to be advanced by your spouse or from community property. In any event, keep in mind it is not your lawyer's obligation to pay for the necessary experts in your case.
Why do I have to pay a lawyer to force my ex-spouse to comply?
No one can guarantee that your spouse will honor agreements or court orders. Courts will enforce orders if an appropriate request is made. Typically, there will be additional legal costs for enforcement actions and it is not the lawyer's responsibility to ensure that parties abide by the original agreements and court orders.
About the author: Laurence Hirsch is a family law attorney at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. Larry was selected as a 2012, 2013 and 2014 Southwest Super Lawyer Rising Star and also chosen by the Phoenix Business Journal for induction into the 2011 class of "Forty Under 40". He is a member of the State Bar of Arizona in the Family Law and Young Lawyers sections. He was formerly the Vice President of the Maricopa County Bar Association, Family Law Section. More recently, He has expertise representing high net worth individuals who have closely held businesses in their marital community.
This article is not intended to provide legal advice and only relates to Arizona law. It does not consider the scope of laws in states other than Arizona. Always consult an attorney for legal advice for your particular situation.