The first thing that comes to my mind – and probably the only thing most people consider when asked this question – is the lawyer’s fee. Of course that a significant expense with a large chunk normally due at the beginning of the representation. But there are other costs that can cause the price of your divorce to go up. I recently came across the article “How Much Does the Average Divorce Really Cost?” from Huffington Post that breaks things down.
Let’s look at some of the costs of divorce:
Lawyer fees. Fees vary from state to state and from locale to locale. A more rural area may see lawyers charging lower fees for similar services offered by lawyers in more metropolitan areas of your state. Lawyers also charge fees in different ways. Many lawyers are going to fixed fee or flat rate billing. That way you know exactly what your divorce will cost you. In some cases, there is a “menu” of fees. For example, to file a motion for temporary relief, you may pay $1,500.00. If discovery is part of your case, you may pay an additional $1,000.00. If you violate the order and need your lawyer to represent you in rule to show cause action you know your lawyer charges $2,000.00 for that and so on. While the fee you pay up front may not be the total amount you pay, you can rest a little easier knowing what each step in the process will cost you. The other way divorce lawyers charge their fees is on an hourly basis and asking the client to pay a retainer or pre-payment of the fee. Essentially, the fee is held in trust and the lawyer does not receive the money for use in his practice until he has billed the client for the work.
Court Costs. In order to file a new action with a South Carolina Family Court you will need to pay a filing fee of $150.00. If you are also filing a Motion for Temporary Relief, there is an additional $25.00 motion fee due. Additional motions during the litigation or a Rule to Show Cause to enforce the action would also be subject to additional motion fees.
Litigation Costs. Once an action is commenced, the summons and complaint must be served on the defendant. The Rules of Civil Procedure govern the proper way to serve these papers, but it isn’t as simple as the plaintiff handing them to their spouse in the driveway. Typically, a process server is hired and can range from $50 – $100 depending on the area and how difficult it is for the process server to locate the other party for service.
Many counties in South Carolina now require litigants in contested actions to participate in mandatory mediation. A court-appointed mediator (and most private mediators) typically charge $200.00 per hour. Those fees are typically divided equally between the parties unless an order or agreement specifies differently. There are some other mediation options through non-profit mediation centers that charge less and are a good option for litigants with limited funds.
Guardians ad Litem. In cases where custody or visitation issues are contested, the parties may agree or the Court may determine that the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem is necessary. Typically, the Court will order each party to pay one-half of the Guardian’s initial retainer for the parties to pay in a set time. Depending on the complexity of the case, the initial retainer may be $500.00 apiece or much more.
Other costs that you might not consider right off include bank fees and closing costs if you must sell or refinance your property. Then, there will be deed recording fees. There are also fees associated with the transfer of your retirement funds charged by the plan administrator for reviewing the domestic relations order.
What are some ways to keep costs down?
First, be honest with your lawyer up front. Don’t let him/her get surprised with facts that you didn’t think were relevant that would totally change the complexion of your case.
Be on the ball. When your lawyer requests information from you, asks you to come in to review a document or discuss a settlement offer, don’t dilly dally. Go ahead and schedule your appointment.
Keep your appointment. Don’t miss your appointments. Not only do you look flaky, but your lawyer is probably very busy keeping up with his clients and court schedule and it may take some time to get a new appointment scheduled that works for both of your schedules.
Don’t be petty. Many clients end up spending thousands of dollars in attorney fees fighting over the bad 80′s VHS collection. Know when to say when and what fights to stay in and what fights to let go. Also, this means you should be reasonable while negotiating a potential settlement.