The very first thing many couples looking to get a divorce ask is, “how much will it cost?” However, like most things in law, the answer is… it depends. It depends on the complexity of the case, whether it be a financial or circumstantial complexity. It depends on the length of the marriage as well as whether alimony will be an issue. It also depends on whether there are children involved. However, ultimately it depends on how much agreement or disagreement there exists between the parties.
Hourly Rate x Hours Billed
Most family law attorneys bill for any and all time that they spend working on a particular case. Meaning, that the easiest way to determine how much a case can cost is to multiply the attorney’s hourly rate by the amount of hours the case may take. While the hourly rate is easy to find out—any attorney you hire will need to tell you their particular hourly rate—the more elusive figure is how many hours will it take to resolve and finalize your case. The answer to this question will depend on a variety of circumstances, some of which are delineated below:
Contested vs Uncontested
This alludes to whether a case will be substantially litigated (contested) or whether the parties are in mutual agreement about the issues requiring resolution (uncontested). Logically, the more disagreement and litigation goes on between the parties, the more they will each spend on their respective attorneys. The more agreement and cooperation—the less each will spend on attorney’s fees. Whether a case is contested or uncontested essentially speaks to how long a case will take. Naturally, the longer the case, the more money will be spent. Therefore, in order to minimize your exposure to increased costs, the goal should be to reach mutual understandings in regard to as many issues as possible. This is sometimes easier said than done, but not impossible.
Length of Marriage & Financial Self Sufficiency of the Parties
The longer the marriage, the likelier there exists more accumulation of marital assets and debts to be divided. Likewise, the likelier that life experiences and circumstances have led one spouse to become more financially dependent upon the other spouse. In cases where there is a lengthier marriage and one party is financially dependent on the other, there will likely be substantial financial discovery which will have an impact on the negotiations that are necessary to address and resolve issues such as equitable distribution and/or alimony awards.
Cases involving children are often lengthier because a parenting plan will need to be prepared and child support guidelines must be calculated. While child support is determined by Florida Child Support Guidelines and is “statutory,” meaning the amount of support is not negotiable between the parents. What is negotiable is the parenting plan which discusses, among other things, how much time, and when specifically, the child(ren) will spend time with each parent. This negotiation is not always an easy one and is often one of the most time-consuming aspects of family cases. Failure to reach a mutual agreement on this topic requires the Court to make an ultimate determination, which of course, results in more time and more attorney’s fees.
Choice of Attorney
When choosing an attorney to handle your family law case, it is not only important to focus on the amount of their hourly rate but also what their approach to family law is. For example, you can hire an attorney with a reasonable hourly rate but one that takes unreasonable positions in litigation thereby causing unnecessary and lengthy litigation. Alternatively, you can hire an attorney who is a collaboratively trained family law attorney or a cooperatively minded problem solver, who will assist in effectively and efficiently navigating your case to an end.
In the end, the circumstance of your divorce, including whether it’s contested or not, the length of your marriage, whether or not both of you are financially self-sufficient, your agreement on children’s issues, and, most importantly, your choice of a family lawyer will set the stage for how long your journey to a resolution will take. However, in many instances, asking an attorney about their approach to family law is a much more pertinent question, because it could be indicative of how long the divorce process will take and ultimately cost you rather than asking for a specific dollar amount.