Family Law Blog

How Much Does it Cost to Retain a Family Law Attorney?

By February 9, 2021 One Comment
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What to expect to pay for a divorce in California 

A family law attorney’s practice is not limited to divorce. Child and spousal support issues, custody matters, and adoption are also handled. Domestic violence often falls under the umbrella of family law as well.

In California, “family law” covers domestic issues. Specific laws vary but generally aim to protect an individual’s rights within the context of family. For example, divorce law addresses how to end a marriage and divide the property.

So, how much does it cost to retain a family law attorney?

The answer to that question isn’t just a straight dollar number…

There are a lot of factors that play into the cost. However, here is our insight on hiring a family law attorney.

What Attorney Fees Should I Expect?

There are numerous aspects to the question of attorney fees in family law matters and it helps to understand what they are before you hire someone to represent you.

A lawyer’s hourly rates are not set by California law, although there are some limitations imposed by the State Bar, particularly with regard to “unconscionable” fees.

Family law attorneys set their own prices for their services based on market forces.

Lawyers with extensive experience, such as 15 years or more, or who have a specialized expertise such as being a Certified Family Law Specialist, typically charge a higher hourly fee. When you hire a Certified Family Law Specialist there is added value to the quality of what is provided as they invest considerable time in energy in staying current with family law and related fields, the State Bar of California certifies this. 

Cost of Legal Retainers and Staff

In most cases, qualified family law attorneys require a retainer from their clients prior to starting work on the case.

A retainer is an upfront deposit for services that you are required to provide upon the signing of the fee agreement. Though it may seem this is paying for work before it’s performed, retainers serve a particularly important purpose.

For a lawyer to devote her or his energy and attention to your family law matter they need to be reassured they’ll be paid for their services. Retainers are usually based on how complex the attorney you meet with thinks your case will be, they range from $3,500 to $10,000.

Retainers remain in a trust account until the work is completed and the money is earned. 

There are some tasks in family law matters that can be handled less expensively by paralegals and legal assistants. Provided the attorney continues to actively supervise your case and the work performed, this can be extremely cost-effective for you.

At Minella Law Group, we strive to make things as cost-effective as possible understanding divorce is expensive and you still have to support yourself and your family. 

Related >> I Can’t Afford A Legal Retainer, Can I Still Get Divorced?

So, What Should You Expect To Pay?

How much your matter will cost is impossible to predict. It’s important to remember in law, time is money.

That said, in California:

  • Experienced attorneys charge $300-500 per hour.
  • A simple, amicable divorce costs around $6,000.
  • The average cost for a divorce is $17,500.

The financial price tag for divorce is not limited to attorney’s fees and court costs.

For instance, there might be mortgages and credit cards debts to be paid, and professionals such as real estate agents and accountants to be compensated. This means the cost of divorce will be paid either from one or both spouses’ incomes, or from martial or non-marital assets.

No matter who actually pays the cost of divorce, both parties are affected, as there is less cash available when all is said and done. This is why you should strive for amicability during a divorce, not waste money fighting about costly, unproductive issues as the cost of divorce can cause significant hardships.

Debts

All community debts and liabilities are a part of your divorce settlement and there are some instances where non-community debt may be included. Debt reduces the gross value of your estate and will have an impact on how the court divides property and orders debt paid. Examples of debt include mortgages, lines of credit, credit cards, car loans and all other consumer loans. If you or your spouse own a business and have personal guarantees made for business debts or lines of credit they, too, will need to be addressed.

Joint Debts

California is a community property state, which means creditors can hold both spouses liable for any debt incurred individually during the marriage and subsequent separation. To avoid paying for debt you did not incur, you should ask for all debts to be assigned at judgment.

Couples commonly have joint credit cards and it’s not unusual for one or the other spouse to use those cards during separation and/or divorce proceedings. With notable exceptions, including non-employment and lack of access to cash, that spouse should be responsible for the incurred debt. However, creditors simply want to be repaid and have no interest in who will be doing the paying. While possible in theory, it’s not likely that a creditor will release the non-responsible spouse from liability, making it necessary to request the court to assign those debts as part of your divorce ruling.

Mortgages

A couple’s home is often their most valuable asset. When a separation occurs, decisions need to be made over who stays in the property and who makes the mortgage payments. If one party is living in the house and making the mortgage payments, the court may award them half of those payments at final judgment (known as “Epstein Credits”). If the party living in the house is not making any payment towards the mortgage, the other party may under California law receive reimbursement for post-separation mortgage payments, as well as compensation for the resident spouse’s use of the family home during the divorce (“Watts Charges”).

Attorney’s Fees

The assumption is that each party in a divorce is responsible for his or her own attorney’s fees. There are times, however, where the California Family Code permits the judge to charge, or assign, one divorcing spouse’s legal expenses to the other spouse. Financial disparity, is the most common reason, meaning one party has a clear advantage over the other in being able to afford legal assistance.

Determining who is responsible for making payments, or who is entitled to reimbursements, is a complicated area of family law. Judges carefully take into consideration how the debt was incurred and each party’s ability to pay. It’s a sound investment in yourself to consult an experienced family law attorney to understand what your divorce will cost, both for you individually and for the marital estate.

Retaining a divorce attorney is the first step in any family law case, reach out to us to learn more.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Jennifer DesRosiers says:

    I tried to settle the divorce out of court, my spouse refused and hired an attorney.This is for San DIego County. My spouse is retired military. They are trying to only offer me $350/mo for three years. I have refused. I understand under California law that a military pension is community property. Am I entitled to 50% of his military pension.
    What about profit-sharing account he has from current employer? At this point I just need to know what I am entitled to.. Thanks for any help.

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