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How Much Does a Family Law Attorney Cost?

9 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

Whether you are in the midst of a divorce, separation, or child custody battle, one of the most pressing questions you likely are asking yourself is “How much does a family law lawyer cost?” You’re not alone. 

The typical family law lawyer charges $3k-$5k upfront, and an additional $300-$500 per hour on top of that. Needless to say, family law attorneys can be expensive. However, there are ways to save money on legal fees. We can connect you today with a local unbundled family law attorney to understand how you can save money.

What is Family Law and What Does a Family Law Attorney Do? 

Family law specifically addresses domestic issues (i.e., divorce, custody, visitation, etc.). A family law attorney will focus on multiple areas of family law or specialize in a certain subject. Learn more about the subjects that family law involves below:

  • Marriage, Separation, and Divorce: This can include issues such as prenuptial agreements, separation, mediation, divorce, division of assets and debts, spousal support, alimony, domestic violence, etc. 
  • Child Custody Issues: These issues include child custody, child support, adoption, abuse, paternity testing, and many other issues related to children and the family unit. 
  • Other Types of Issues: Family law lawyers help sort out estate issues, inheritance disputes, legal name changes, “Power of Attorney,” etc. 

Family Law is complex. Laws do differ from state to state and can sometimes be difficult to interpret and apply to your case without the help of an experienced attorney. If you choose to represent yourself, you can potentially risk some of the most important aspects of your life such as your finances, relationship with your children, where you live, etc. 

Why Are Family Law Lawyers So Expensive?

In general, family law lawyers cost so much because they tend to handle every aspect of your case. For example, when you hire a divorce lawyer from your area, they will take care of filing the paperwork, interpreting laws, drafting agreements, negotiating with your ex, representing you in court, advising you of your rights and what you’re entitled to, etc. 

What Is the Average Retainer Fee for a Family Lawyer? 

Most divorce and child custody lawyers charge an upfront fee of $3k-$5k. In some cases, this serves as a retainer fee which acts as a downpayment for your legal services. As the attorney works, they deduct their hourly rate from the retainer. In other cases, attorneys charge the upfront fee and then charge an hourly rate. 

Other Factors That Affect the Cost of a Family Law Lawyer 

The overall cost of legal representation depends on many factors such as the complexity of your case, the amount of time it takes to conclude, and the type of case that you have. 

Type of Case 

Your expenses will vary greatly depending on whether you are hiring a family law lawyer to handle a divorce case, child custody case, separation, etc. For instance, you will likely pay less for a child custody lawyer to simply review a draft of your divorce agreement than you would if you hired an attorney who handles every aspect of your case. 

The Complexity of Your Case

Additionally, the complexity of your case may have an overwhelming effect on the overall cost of hiring an attorney. If you and your ex cannot agree before going to court, you can expect to pay substantially more. Furthermore, if your case involves a lot of assets, debts, or numerous general disputes, it will likely require more effort from your attorney. 

How Long Will Your Case Take?

A contested divorce can take up to a year to resolve. On the other hand, uncontested divorces can conclude relatively quickly. If you and your spouse are unable to resolve disputes via mediation (or another form of alternative dispute resolution), then you may have to pay your attorney to do a lot more work. 

Do I Need To Hire a Lawyer?

You have the right to represent yourself in all matters of family law. However, this is usually not the most effective way to get the outcome that you want. Hiring an attorney can be beneficial in many ways that include:

  • Understanding your rights and how they apply to your case
  • Correctly filing paperwork and motions
  • Serving your spouse the divorce, separation, or child custody paperwork
  • Negotiating with your spouse and their attorney
  • Division of assets, debts, and property
  • Securing necessary child custody and spousal support payments

With the benefits of hiring a family law lawyer in mind, if you still choose to represent yourself, it is recommended that you prepare for a steep learning curve. If you are unsure if a divorce or child custody lawyer can help you, it may be best to take advantage of a free consultation to learn if they can. 

How Can I Find an Attorney Who Works For Me?

Not all family law lawyers are created the same. Some have more experience with child custody issues, others focus mostly on divorce. When searching for an attorney who is right for you, it can be helpful to conduct research, interview a few attorneys, and ask the right questions. Learn more about how to find the right family law lawyer below. 

Conduct Research Yourself 

Searching on a popular search engine for terms like “how to find a family law lawyer in my area” is a good start, but it shouldn’t be the only step you take. Ensure that you read what former clients are saying about potential attorneys on popular review sites. 

Additionally, check with the Better Business Bureau to research any complaints. Narrow down your search to the lawyers that you feel most comfortable with. 

Speak With Multiple Attorneys

You may be very impressed with the first attorney that you speak with. However, in most cases, it is recommended that you consult with at least 2 – 3 family law lawyers before making your final hire. This provides you the opportunity to compare styles, experience, fit, costs, and overall compatibility. Since most lawyers offer a free initial consultation, it shouldn’t cost you more than your time. 

Ask the Right Questions 

During your initial consultation, it is best to have some questions prepared for your prospective attorney. In most cases, this is your one chance to ask important questions before you agree to hire an attorney. A few questions to ask your family law lawyer include:

  • Do you have experience with cases similar to mine? If so, what was the outcome?
  • Who in your office will I mostly be in contact with?
  • What are my options and what do you recommend?
  • How much will this cost and what is your fee structure?
  • Have you ever been in trouble with the state bar?
  • Do you have any references?

Take Into Account All Factors

When choosing your family law lawyer, it is important to take into account all factors. It can be tempting to focus solely on cost, but that should not be your only consideration. Though you can fire an attorney after you hire them, that can be an expensive and time-consuming process in the middle of a case. 

Choose a lawyer that has the experience you need, you feel comfortable with, and one that you can afford. 

How Can I Save Money on Legal Fees?

The overall costs of legal representation can be expensive for most people. Fortunately, there are ways to save money on legal fees. Listed below are common methods to save money on the cost of family law lawyers. 

1. Reach an Agreement Before Going to Court

Family law-related issues can be very contentious. Couples who can work out their differences together can avoid the pitfalls of taking their case to trial. If you are unable to reach an agreement with your ex, it may be in your best interest to participate in some form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) like mediation, arbitration, or the collaborative law process. 

An experienced family law lawyer will be an asset when negotiating, creating agreements, and reviewing proposals made when drafting agreements. Couples that cannot settle their disputes before going to trial can expect to pay substantially more for their divorce than couples who do reach an agreement. 

2. Focus on Win-Win Scenarios

Even if you and your spouse can reach an agreement about all divorce-related issues, a judge could reject it if it is found that the agreement is not in the best interest of the children involved, and/or if the deal is not fair to all parties. 

Additionally, if you are unfair or unreasonable during mediation (or another form of negotiation), a family court judge may take into account the recommendations of the mediator – which could result in an unfavorable ruling. 

3. Limit Your Communication 

Most attorneys bill their clients for emails, phone calls, visits, text messages, etc. It can be beneficial to have an exhaustive list of questions prepared for your initial meeting to limit the amount of communication you have with your child custody or divorce lawyer afterward. 

Also, ensure that you ask your attorney what type of communication you will be billed for and how much it will cost. 

4. Take Care of Some Things on Your Own 

Lawyers are so expensive because of the amount of work, time, and effort they put into each case. However, you can save thousands of dollars in upfront legal fees by hiring an unbundled attorney who will help you with some parts of your case while you take care of the rest. Learn more about unbundled legal services below. 

How Can Unbundled Legal Services Save Me Money on Legal Fees?

The average cost of a divorce in the United States is roughly $15,000. Most of that money is spent on the family law lawyer. Fortunately, with unbundled legal services, you can hire a family law lawyer to handle the more complex parts of your case while you save money by taking care of the rest of your case. 

You can hire an unbundled family law attorney who will help you with your case for as low as $500-$1500. If your case is more complex, our network of family law attorneys also offers full representation at affordable rates. 

Before you spend thousands of dollars in upfront fees, get into contact with an unbundled family law lawyer, and learn if your case is a good fit to be unbundled today.

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