Divorce Legal Fees

Sigrent wrote a comment on divorce legal fees in the forums. He complains about how high legal fees are, and then offers some proposals for ensuring that your legal fees are kept down.

The issue of legal fees for divorce is a complex one, which I can’t do justice to in a brief post here.

Some things to consider:

1. Family law gets more and more complex all the time. Nowadays a lawyer has to specialize in this area to even begin to attain a degree of competency. This drives divorce legal fees higher.

2. Social norms change. For instance, a generation ago, men generally didn’t get custody. Now, in many cases, they demand to be equal parents. The additional conflicts this causes drive divorce legal fees higher.

3. The law can be very grey and the financial stakes huge. For instance, the value of a pension may vary by several hundred thousand dollars, depending on what age a person retires. This drives legal fees higher.

4. Justice can be uneven. The results you’ll get before one judge may differ greatly than what you’d get before another judge. This makes it difficult to settle cases, which drives legal fees higher.

5. There’s no end to creativity of couples as to how nasty and complicated they want to make each other’s lives. The conflict drives legal fees higher.

6. Although a lawyer may make things look easy 🙂 it actually is a lot of work even if you just want to do well in negotiations. To do well in court requires even more lengthy and detailed preparation. This drives legal fees higher.

I’m rambling a bit, but basically there are a lot of good reasons why a divorce costs so much. I’m not saying that’s ideal or the way it should be, but simply observing how things are.

Regarding Sigrent’s suggestion about flat fees: Flat fees work well when you can predict the amount of work involved. In a divorce, this is generally not possible. It’s always possible to raise more issues, if you or your spouse is thus inclined. It’s always possible for one or both spouses to be unreasonable (surprise – that’s one reason why you left them). As well, until the case has developed, it may not be possible to know what all the issues are in more than the most general sense.

I find Sigrent’s advice not to be afraid to haggle somewhat troubling. It shows that price is a major factor in your decision to retain a lawyer, which it shouldn’t be in something as important as your divorce. There are good ways to keep your legal fees down, but haggling is not one of them.

I think that one of the reasons why people get bad legal representation is that they try *too hard* to save legal fees. They try to get free consultations, shop around for the lowest priced lawyer, complain to their lawyer about every bill and try to get it reduced, and so forth. Granted, it’s good to save money. But saving a few dollars in legal fees may cost you a lot in your final divorce settlement.

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