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.