Legal Procedures Feed

How much does a Rhode Island divorce cost?

As a Rhode Island lawyer, I constantly receive telephone calls from prospective clients.  The question?  How much do I charge for a divorce?  It is not a question easily answered.  People often want a set fee or a maximum priced range of what their divorce might cost in total. That's understandable. People price shop and they want their divorce to be affordable.  It is entirely possible that one or more practitioners might give a rate or quote over the telephone.  However, if you are happy with what was represented to you for the quote by the attorney, make sure that your written agreement with the attorney matches what was represented.  It's one thing to say what you think you can do it for and it's another thing entirely to have it in a written contract signed by the lawyer.  Unless you have done business with the attorney before and have an arrangement with him or her, you should always get a written agreement as to what you are paying and what it covers. This is often a contract known as a fee agreement and should be signed by both you and the lawyer.

Why would there be any variation in the cost of a divorce? 

Each attorney has their own rates.  Attorneys with more experience tend to charge more based on the premise that the quality of what you are getting is better.  It's much like the expectation that a name brand Samsung 55" Ultra High Definition Smart TV is likely to cost considerably more than a TLC 55" Ultra High Definition Television because Samsung is reputed to produce significantly greater quality products.  Some lawyers charge a set hourly rate for based on the whole case, specific aspects of a case or different types of cases.  Many attorney's rates may also be linked to his or her overhead expenses to run their law practice. Court time may also be charged differently from non-court time.  Trial time may also be charged differently from investigative time or case preparation time in order to facilitate settlement and save the client money.  Costs may be factored into an hourly rate with some attorneys but may be billed separately by other attorneys.  Some attorneys may charge a flat rate for a block of time and others may charge a flat fee for a type of matter such as an uncontested divorce.  In truth, there is any number of variations for an attorney's fee or rate.

For my part, my greatest variation is with the financial situations of my clients.  Depending upon the financial situation of a particular client, the complexity of his or her matter,  whether the case has already been filed or whether it is likely to be forced to go to trial are all factors that I use to determine the rate I will charge. In my case, each client's matter is priced on its merits so that clients are treated fairly in terms of fees. Clients with extremely complex cases will get traditional fees whereas clients with easier cases tend to get reduced fees.  My philosophy is that a person with an easier case who does not tax the divorce lawyer's knowledge and resources should not reasonably be charged the same amount as the person who has a highly complex case because you are not getting the same level of services.

Ultimately, no attorney has a crystal ball to predict the posture a court may take, the actions taken by an opposing attorney or the client or circumstances that may arise during the course of the divorce.

It is disappointing that there are attorneys who will quote a "one size fits all" rate for all clients without consideration to the degree of work that needs to be done or its complexity.  While a one size fits all rate benefits the attorney, it causes the client with an easier case to pay the same rate as the client with the more difficult case.  This creates what may be a rather unfair or disproportionate result.

So, how much does a divorce cost?

If you get an answer to this question without having met with the attorney or having given the attorney all the facts necessary to properly evaluate the case . . . the price you have been given may just be "bait" to get you into the office and convince you to retain them under what is perhaps more onerous and more costly financial rates or terms.

Every divorce is different and there is no specific or even average cost for a divorce unless a lawyer quotes you a flat fee and guarantees it in writing.  This is usually only true in what is clearly an uncontested case where you have already worked out a settlement agreement with your spouse.

Court Conferences in Divorce Cases . . What happens behind closed doors?

If you've been in a Rhode Island Family court either for a Rhode Island divorce proceeding or other family law matter and you've been represented by a Rhode Island attorney then you most likely have seen the attorneys go into the judge's chambers on more than a few occasions to discuss your case.

This can, and often is, very frustrating for clients because they want to witness first-hand everything that goes on in their case.  To the uninformed client, it can appear fairly suspicious and cause considerable nervousness because they don't know what is being said about them, their case, their assets, their responsibilities, etc. . . . . all behind closed doors.

I can certainly understand the concerns of these clients.  Here they are sitting in the courtroom, waiting to be heard . . . expecting to be heard . . . and waiting as the moments tick by so that they can say something . . . . ANYTHING . . . to make sure their side of the story is heard by the Rhode Island family court judge assigned to their divorce case.

No doubt, as clients sit in the gallery (a more respectable term than the church type pews that line most of the state courtrooms) waiting for their attorneys to come back from the mysterious "chambers" of the judge, they conjure in their minds various images of what may be taking place in the judge's chambers based upon everything from their attorney's demeanor that morning, to the size of the briefcase the other attorney may be carrying in comparison to their own counsel.

So is there a purpose to these "backroom" gatherings that clients worry about?  Or, is it merely a way to keep the client's mouth shut and bill a few hours for the attorney?

As a Rhode Island attorney focusing my law practice in the area of Rhode Island Divorce and Family law, I can tell you with certainty that these questions are not merely a creation of my own mind.  These are, in fact, questions that are routinely tossed my way by clients, by spectators and by armchair lawyers that want to second guess their attorneys who may well be in with the judge at the time they choose to try to pick my brain, "free of charge", while they sit and wait to find out what fate may befall them on that particular day.

The long and the short of it is that conferences between counsel and the judge on Rhode Island Divorce and Family Law Cases are in some instances mandatory, such as Case Management Conferences and Pre-trial Conferences, and are, in other instances, necessary to move the court's docket.

Practicality must be a weighing factor here for all concerned, litigants, attorneys and judges.  Every year the state courts are overflowing with divorces, custody cases, domestic abuse matters, etc...   There are, in fact, many judges who sacrifice their own personal time and convenience (thanklessly I might add) in order to hear additional matters that wouldn't otherwise be heard if the judges didn't go beyond the scope of what they are simply expected or required to do on a daily basis.

Many Rhode Island Divorce and family court judges deserve a pat on the back or round of applause for what they do for the constituents of Rhode Island and those that become subject to the Rhode Island family court system.  It is unfortunate that the public itself rarely sees the things the judiciary do for them from the bench and it is rare, if ever, that good servants of the people go unrewarded and unappreciated.

Though we all have our good and bad days, I believe it is worth noting one particular week in which I observed Magistrate Jeanne Shepard who at the time was sitting in the Providence Family Court hearing nominal proceedings, miscellaneous proceedings and protection from abuse matters. 

I appeared in the magistrate's courtroom three times in the same particular week.  That week and the timing of cases was particularly hectic to my schedule and many other practitioners as the case calendar was very heavy with limited time for each matter.  Though Magistrate Shepard's voice was "short" at times with both pro se individuals and counsel alike, she endeavored to hear each person in turn, was attentive as each person presented their case, limited testimony to the extent of the rules of evidence and what was appropriate . . . and most significantly on two of the occasions she required her clerk, her stenographic court assistant and her courtroom sheriff to delay their lunches for nearly an hour on two separate occasions to help accommodate people who had been waiting to be heard that morning and to help attorneys rework their schedules so that not only her docket but other court dockets could move forward.  Though not appearing to be an exuberant gesture to anyone, it was a thoughtful and selfless act that was not within any requirement she had.  It was well worth the slight rebuke I received when I endeavored to bring testimony before the court that was only tangentially related to the case matter.

The point is simply this.  Conferences are a part of the Rhode Island Divorce and family court process.  Practically speaking conferences are typically much quicker than full hearings requiring movement within the courtroom, swearing in, formalities of entering exhibits, cross-examination, redirect examination, offers of proof and objections.   If an attorney is not particularly adept at asking questions within the boundaries of the evidentiary rules of the court this could go on until the judge's patience is exhausted.  Conferences, generally speaking, can save the client considerable time and money since conferences are designed to expedite the process.

There are both pros and cons to conferences that clients should be well aware of.  Conferences will rely upon the advocacy skill of your lawyer in an informal setting.  Hearings rely upon the advocacy skill of your lawyer in a formalized and possibly highly regimented courtroom proceeding in which a judge may hold your attorney to the letter of the law as to argument, testimony, and evidence.  Thus, information that your attorney might be able to convey that is favorable to you in the course of a chamber's conference with a judge may not be admissible at all in a formal courtroom hearing.  If this were the case, valuable information that you consider evidence and want presented at a "hearing on the record" may never be heard or even considered by the judge.

No one can expect nor predict if the results of a chamber's agreement between counsel after conferencing issues with the judge would, or even might, mirror the outcome after a hearing.  Yet there are significant benefits to chambers conferences for clients and it is best to discuss those benefits with your attorney in determining what stance you would like him or her to take.  Practicalities are a concern both with timing, court docket, scheduling, and the monies and time necessary to achieve the result you want in the manner in which you want it.

What goes on behind closed doors?  Agreeable resolutions with the candor of individuals who usually know the system, appreciate the practicalities, keep the client's concerns and legal interests foremost in mind and want you to be able to move forward to a better tomorrow.