Various intricate issues affect how we handle divorce cases. These variables could balloon the fees up to six figures or more. But surely, there must be pointers that can tell you how expensive divorce is likely to get, right? What is the average attorney’s retainer fee? Let me help set the record straight by providing a clearer understanding of the cost-related basics.
The Rationale for a Retainer
For starters, the process leading to the Virginia final decree of divorce can be challenging and tedious. Various complicated issues may crop up and require an attorney’s help to resolve.
Attorneys usually quote a retainer fee once you commence proceedings for a divorce settlement. But, a lawyer can’t just wriggle out of a case once it’s filed in court without reasonable grounds. This effectively means their hands are tied, and they often have to see through the divorce case. Therefore, they need a way to avert a scenario where they may not get paid for their services. As such, they charge a retainer.
In family law, hiring an attorney on a retainer is standard fare. Think of the upfront payment as a deposit that goes into an escrow account in your name. The money is held in trust until the settlement of your case, upon which the attorney bills you.
The upfront retainer is neither a flat fee nor is it an estimate of how much a case is likely to cost. It may vary as the case proceeds.
With that in mind, your attorney may request you to maintain the account by regularly replenishing it when it falls below a given limit. Why would they do that? To ensure that their bills will be catered for upon finalization of your case. Also, you are entitled to the surplus in the escrow account after deducting the total attorney’s fees.
The retainer fee varies widely and can be as little as $5,000 or as high as $20,000. On average, expect to pay a ballpark figure averaging about $10,000. How complicated an attorney expects a case to be also plays into the estimated retainer fee.
Typical hourly fees in Virginia range between $200 and $400. These fees factor into the lawyer’s retainer fee. For instance, if a lawyer charges $300 for 20 hours (the estimated time spent on the case), they may charge a retainer fee of $6,000. What are some of the factors that could affect the retainer fees you pay per hour?
Factors Affecting the Retainer Fee
Do you live in a big city? Chances are your living costs are likely to be higher too than if you were staying in a smaller town. Indeed, location plays into the retainer fee and you can expect to pay to account for the costs of working in a given area. In this regard, a divorce attorney may charge less if they operate outside the main metropolitan areas of the city.
2. Experience and Expertise
Generally, expect to pay less for a less-experienced attorney than you would a lawyer with specialized knowledge and experience in family law. Furthermore, a lawyer’s expertise can help speed up the resolution of divorce issues. In so doing, you may end up paying less upon settlement of the case.
Prestige also counts in legal circles. Hiring an attorney from a prestigious firm may cost you more in the long run as such an organization may charge higher retainer fees.
4. Type of Divorce Case: Contested versus Uncontested
The type of case determines the retainer you might end up paying. Case in point, is your case contested or uncontested? A contested divorce case is one in which neither spouse agrees to the modalities of breaking off their union. As such, they opt to undergo the divorce process with the hope of getting a settlement in court.
Such a process can take a financial toll, and a divorce attorney is likely to consider the nature of the case while determining a retainer. Issues such as filing for divorce or serving a spouse with the divorce papers represent costs that a lawyer needs to consider when setting a retainer.
Conversely, an uncontested divorce is one in which both parties see eye to eye relating to all the terms of their divorce. In so doing, an attorney needs to file a joint petition for the annulment of a marriage. This is less complex or strenuous for both spouses. As a result, the retainer fee is more likely to be higher in a contested divorce than in an uncontested case.
Consider scheduling a consultation with a family law attorney in your area if you have additional questions. Such a sit-down can present an opportunity to create a foundation for a solid case by addressing issues that may arise going forward.