By Divorce.com staff
Updated Sep 20, 2022
You're not alone if you’re concerned about how much you might have to pay in legal fees during your divorce. The average traditional divorce costs almost $16,000. You might be unable to afford to pay your legal fees on top of your living expenses, which will increase when you’re single and have no one to split bills with.
If you and your spouse have minor children, proceedings could take much longer, especially if you cannot agree on issues like child support or custody arrangements. If you have a limited budget, you’ll want to spend as little (or no) time in court as possible to save money. You might even be able to have your former spouse pay your attorney fees in some cases.
What Are Attorney Fees?
Attorney fees will be billed to you in exchange for legal representation. Each attorney sets their rates and will bill you hourly, flat-rate, hybrid, or contingent. Before moving forward with an attorney, you must understand how much you agree to pay (and how often).
- Hourly billing: This is the most common method of billing among attorneys. If you work with one that bills hourly, inquire about their minimum billing interval. The standard practice is to bill in six-minute intervals. You'll be billed for six if you meet with your attorney for three minutes.
- Flat-rate billing: Your attorney may also agree to represent you or offer legal advice for a fixed rate. This billing method is most common in cases with predictable outcomes; so the attorney knows what to expect in terms of time commitment (ex: estate planning).
- Hybrid billing: Sometimes, divorce attorneys might prefer to use a combination of billing methods. In this case, the details will be spelled out in your billing statement, so review it carefully.
- Contingent billing: A contingency fee is paid based on how much a client is awarded at the close of a case. This method is often used in cases where a person lacks the financial resources to pay a hefty amount upfront, and the attorney agrees to take on a certain amount of risk.
Divorce attorneys also typically require an upfront retainer, which is a down payment for future work. Attorneys must bill reasonably; whether or not a fee is reasonable depends on various factors. They should keep detailed records of billed time, and you should also hold your own.
Average Cost of an Attorney: How Much Do They Charge in 2022?
In 2022, average attorney fees have ranged from $100 to $300. The amount you pay will depend on factors like the case type and the experience your attorney has.
Here is a breakdown of average attorney costs (by the from $100 to $300hour) across the nation:
- National minimum: $100
- National maximum: $1,000
- National average: $225
- National average range: $100 - $300
You can expect to pay somewhere within these ranges in most instances. However, every case (and attorney) is different, so you may pay more (or less) than the averages listed here.
Who Typically Pays Attorney Fees?
Typically, each spouse pays their legal fees; but there are exceptions. You might be able to have your ex-spouse cover your attorney fees if you demonstrate a significant need. Spouses entirely financially dependent on the other usually have a strong case for receiving an attorney’s fee award.
You also might be able to have your legal fees covered if your spouse behaves poorly in court. If they’re often showing up late (or not at all), making false claims, or doing anything to cause proceedings to go on longer than they have to, the judge could order them to pay your attorney fees.
How Are Attorney Fees Decided?
A divorce attorney will determine their fee based on factors like the type of case, how long it could take, and the client’s financial situation. Several attorneys are flexible and will still assist those with limited financial resources.
More factors that come into play when an attorney drafts a fee agreement:
- The amount of experience. An attorney who has only been practicing in a court of law for two years will usually charge lower rates than someone with 10 years of experience.
- The type of law. In part, corporate and criminal law attorneys are among the highest paid due to the extensive litigation processes involved in many of those types of cases.
- The average industry rate. An attorney will also consider what other counselors in their niche with the same level of experience are charging.
Many other factors could be considered when determining how much a divorce attorney might charge for legal representation, including whether or not they work independently.
Advantages of Being Awarded Attorney Fees in a Divorce
There are many positive aspects of being awarded attorney fees in your divorce, especially if you’re having trouble making ends meet post-separation. Not having to add more financial responsibilities on top of the ones you already have will make it easier to move forward.
Advantages of an attorney’s fee award:
- The dependent spouse can have relief. Being 100% financially reliant on someone for so long and then being forced to figure out how to make ends meet is difficult.
- The recipient won’t have to pay for the payer’s misconduct. If one spouse was difficult during the divorce proceedings and caused the case to go on longer, accruing more attorney fees than it should have, they’ll have to pay for their behavior.
- More money is left over for the children. Without having to pay expensive legal fees, more funds will be left over for the parent with limited financial resources to spend on their children’s needs.
- The recipient won’t go into debt. Since the party being awarded fees are often in a precarious financial situation, a high attorney bill could send them into debt.
If you’re not quite sure how you’ll come up with the money for your divorce attorney and meet the criteria, you might be able to have your spouse pay.
How To Request Attorney Fees From Your Spouse
If you’re the dependent spouse, you can file a petition in family court to have your attorney fees covered by your ex-partner. This should be handled as early as possible to ensure you’re able to have adequate legal representation until the case is final.
How To Make a Strong Case for Receiving Attorney Fees
Here are some things you can highlight (when applicable) that may compel the judge to rule that your ex-spouse covers your legal fees.
- You have little to no income.
- You no longer have access to joint funds.
- Your spouse has behaved poorly in court (causing proceedings to move slowly).
- Your spouse makes significantly more than you.
When there is a financial imbalance between ex-spouses, the judge will typically attempt to make the situation as fair and even as possible.
How To Ask for More Money Later
In many cases, once a divorce case is final and complete, neither spouse can request more financial support on top of the funds they’ve already received. However, if you didn’t get awarded any money the first time around, you might be able to get a judge to consider your case.
Let’s say you decide not to file a petition for attorney fees or seek out alimony (spousal support), but down the line, you realize you’re not doing as well on your own as you initially thought you would be. You may still be able to request money, but this varies by state.