One of the most common questions asked in an initial divorce consultation is "how much will this divorce cost me?" Many prospective clients are surprised when divorce attorneys answer "I have no idea". The only concrete information a family law attorney can provide clients regarding the cost of their divorce matter is the filing fees imposed by the courts ($435 in 2013). Other than basic hard costs and billing methods, divorce attorneys can provide clients with little information regarding the cost of their divorce at the initial consultation because the overall cost is based on a combination of the following factors.
The Client: A family law client has the ability to greatly influence the cost of his or her divorce. If the client needs a lot of counseling or "hand holding" his or her bills will generally be much higher because the clients repeated phone calls and e-mails substantially increase the time an attorney devotes to the case. Considering the fact that a vast majority of family law attorneys charge an hourly billing rate, daily e-mails and phone calls could potentially add up to thousands of dollars per month.
The Opposing Party: Generally the attitude of the opposing party falls into one of a few categories: (1) emotionally stable and ready to move on with his or her life, (2) angry, vindictive, and willing to do anything to "get back at" his or her spouse, (3) hopeful that the parties can reconcile and therefore doing everything possible to delay the divorce process or (4) self-proclaimed victim who is busy feeling sorry for him/herself. If the opposing party wishes to drag out the divorce process, for whatever reason, there are endless methods of doing this. Delay is particularly easy for a non-represented party who does not incur attorney fees by filing countless motions, propounding burdensome discovery, or litigating every small issue.
The Opposing Counsel: Just like repeated communication with the client can increase attorney fees, onerous correspondence from the opposing attorney can greatly increase the cost of a divorce. This is because attorneys generally have a duty to read and respond to all pleadings and correspondence from the other side. Further, family law attorneys generally have a reputation for either working amicably with the other side to reach a mutually beneficial agreement whenever possible or for using their client's vulnerable state to fuel litigation for their own financial gain. Therefore, the general practice of the opposing attorney will likely minimize or increase the overall cost of divorce.
The Judge/Court: Every family law judge in San Diego is different. As such, every judge has a different calendar, schedule, and view of each case. Many of the court calendars are impacted and family law motions go months before being heard.
Number/Complexity of Contested Issues: The number and complexity of the contested issues in a divorce case is a major factor in the overall cost. For example, if the parties were married for 15 years but have no children, no real property, no retirement accounts/savings, and both earn similar incomes there will be few issues to litigate. However, if the parties were married for three years but have two minor children, retirement accounts, own a home and only one spouse works, the parties will have to address property division, custody and visitation, and support issues. The more contested issues that exist, the longer and more expensive the divorce will be. However, if the contested issues are not complex, a simple hearing will generally resolve the disputes and keep costs low.