Attorney Fees in Divorces

When trying to decide what attorney to hire in a divorce, or really any legal matter, the attorney fees can play a big factor in making that determination.  Unfortunately, attorney fees are not so easy to predict at the outset of a case.


In a divorce proceeding, attorney fees can either be paid through a retainer or a flat fee. When a retainer is involved, the client is required to pay a certain amount up front.  This amount depends on the issues of the case, whether it is uncontested or contested, what the attorney bills hourly, among many other factors.  Typically, the attorney will meet with the client before quoting a retainer fee.  Once the attorney begins to pull from the retainer, the client may be required to do one of three things: make a payment for each billing cycle sufficient to maintain the original retainer amount; replenish the retainer in full once the balance reaches zero dollars; or pay each monthly bill.

For a flat fee, the client is only responsible to make a one-time payment.  This payment may cover the entire case from start to finish, or may cover only certain steps of the entire process.  This option should be fully discussed with the attorney so the client knows exactly what they are paying for and the services they are receiving.


Typically, the attorney fees cover the attorney’s court appearances, telephone conferences, legal research, review of documents and materials, drafting of pleadings and correspondence, participation in settlement negotiations or conferences, and other necessary preparations for your divorce.  Usually, it does not include any additional work or court appearances after a final judgment, such as an appeal.

Additionally, clients are usually responsible for reimbursing the attorney for any and all expenses the attorney may incur during representation.  Expenses are court costs, expert fees, travel expenses, or postage, to just name a few.


When an attorney agrees to represent a client in their divorce proceeding, it is almost impossible for the attorney to predict the total amount of attorney fees at the outset of the case.  There are too many unknown factors that may arise during the pendency of the divorce.  But some factors that may affect the amount of attorney fees are, but not limited to, the following:

  • Spouse is or becomes uncooperative;
  • Bitterness or hurt feelings;
  • Property interests;
  • Discovery issues;
  • The Court’s docket;
  • Opposing counsel that is hard to contact;
  • Appointment of Amicus; or
  • Requirement to participate in Alternative Dispute Resolutions.

If a case starts uncontested or becomes contested, then obviously that will drive up the cost of attorney fees.  Or if children are involved and custody is in issue, then you are possibly facing quite a bit of attorney fees.


Attorney fees are usually determined by that particular attorney’s experience, reputation, comparable attorneys in the area, among other things.  But attorney fees must be reasonable and not unconscionable.

A most important thing to note when thinking about attorney fees, is that most fees are nonrefundable.  This means that if you pay your attorney fees and you do not receive the outcome you desired, you are not entitled to recoup those fees from the attorney.  No outcome is guaranteed and therefore you are assuming the risk when you proceed to a trial on your divorce matter.

Please note that each attorney may charge differently, so it is imperative that you discuss payment up front with your attorney so you understand exactly what is included or is not included with your divorce.