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How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost?

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Divorce Attorney Fees

Even when two partners end their marriage amicably it is typically necessary to hire a divorce lawyer. Divorce lawyers are attorneys with specialized training that makes them uniquely qualified to handle the legal ending of a marriage. Each state has different divorce laws and an attorney well-versed in this area can help you navigate issues such as the division of assets, child custody, and spousal support. To learn more about how the role of a divorce lawyer and divorce lawyer costs, continue reading.

What a Divorce Lawyer Does

Generally speaking, a divorce attorney stands for you in a divorce case. More specifically, their duties include analyzing the facts and circumstances of a divorce, discussing the possibilities with you, preparing and filing legal documents, representing you in court, and resolving settlement issues.

Most divorce cases generally proceed according to the stages described below, with divorce attorneys performing the following tasks:

  • Initial planning: Before any formal actions are taken, you will meet with an attorney to discuss the circumstances surrounding your divorce and what you hope to achieve. During this preliminary stage, it is necessary to determine whether the grounds for divorce are valid in your state. You should be sure at this point to firmly establish a divorce lawyer's cost and how billing works.
  • First papers filed: Once the first steps have been taken, a lawyer will file complaint and summons documents with the court which contain basic facts about the divorce and the grounds for it. Your spouse is then “served” with these papers and has approximately one month to respond.
  • Negotiations and settlement: Once the divorce documents have been acknowledge by your spouse, the two parties, with the help of their divorce attorneys, determine the value of the marital estate and how to equitably divide it in addition to issues such as child custody and visitation. If an agreement over these issues is reached, a supporting document is drafted, signed by both parties, and sent to a judge for final approval. When certain issues cannot be resolved, the parties might meet before a judge or enter mediation to try and settle them. If these attempts still do not produce an agreement, the divorce proceeds to trial.

Contested vs. Non-Contested Divorce

A contested divorce is one in which both spouses can't agree about either the divorce itself or the terms of it (such as the division of assets and custody). In an uncontested divorce, on the other hand, the parties agree about all the major divorce issues. Keep in mind that a contested divorce can be a long, drawn out affair. That will incur more divorce attorney fees if that is the case.

Divorce Lawyer Average Costs

Divorce, with an average price tag of $20,000, isn't cheap. The total cost of a divorce lawyer depends on their individual fees and how extensively you wish to use their services. For example, you may hire a lawyer to handle every stage of a divorce or simply to review documents. In general, however, divorce attorney costs are as follows:

  • You can expect to pay around $100 to $500 per hour for a divorce attorney in addition to a retainer (up-front) fee of approximately $1,000 to $10,000+ (the retainer fee represents the anticipated divorce cost. A lawyer deducts fees from it until the entire balance is depleted. At which point, you must pay additional fees).
  • In addition to the per hour cost of a divorce lawyer, some may also charge you for travel, phone calls, and even things like faxing and photocopying.
  • Court fees, such as filing fees, process serving, and witness preparation, are separate from the divorce attorney cost.
  • One final thing to keep in mind is that it isn't absolutely necessary to hire a divorce lawyer. In most states, it's possible to purchase a “divorce kit” (legal documents) which you can fill out on your own for approximately $25 to $100 (though you still have to appear before a judge for finalization).

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