The most common question I receive from a potential client is, “How much will my divorce cost?” While there is no way to identify the exact, total cost, here are some guidelines to help you along the way:
Attorney’s Fees: A family law attorney will typically require that you pay a retainer to obtain legal representation. The retainer amount varies based on the type of case. In San Diego, the average retainer amount can be anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000. During the consultation, the attorney will assess your matter and determine the appropriate retainer amount.
The attorney pays himself/herself out of the retainer based on their hourly rate. The hourly rate for the attorney will depend on their legal experience and whether they are certified by the State Bar of California. The attorney will also have lower rates for work done by their paralegal.
The key to keeping your attorney’s fees at a reasonable amount is to be responsive with your attorney, and be reasonable with your requests. Any unnecessary delays caused by you may increase your attorney’s fees and costs.
The retainer is a prepayment of legal fees. Any unearned fees will be returned to you. For example, if you pay a $5,000 retainer and decide to reconcile with your spouse shortly thereafter, the attorney has to return to you the unused portion of your retainer payment. However, if you require legal services that exceed the retainer payment, then additional payments from you will be required.
It is important to note that a California family law attorney cannot work on contingency in a divorce matter. This means that they cannot wait until the end of your divorce matter to be paid out of your property settlement. This is because a family law attorney cannot promote divorce. If the attorney only got paid if you got divorced, the attorney would probably not encourage reconciliation between the parties. For more information on this issue, click here.
Court Filing Fees: The Court has mandatory fees for various stages throughout the litigation process. First, the initial court filing fee is currently $435. Each party pays this fee when they file their first document with the Court (for example, the Petitioner pays the court fee when they file the Petition and the Respondent pays the court fee when they file the Response). Additional filing fees include $90 – $125 for a Request for Order (motion), $20 for a Stipulation and Order, and $15 for certified copy of divorce judgment (plus copy fees). For more information on San Diego Superior Court filing fees click here.
If one party has limited funds, they may qualify for a Fee Waiver. If granted, this only waives the court filing fees, not attorney’s fees and other third party costs. To obtain the Fee Waiver, information regarding your income, assets, and debts must be submitted to the Court for consideration. It is important to keep in mind that even if the Court waives the court filing fees, they can order you to pay them in the future if you start receiving monetary support from the other party.
Expert Witnesses or Other Professional: Depending on your case, an expert witness or other professional may be needed. For example, if a complex child custody matter is before the Court, a child custody evaluator may be appointed. The evaluator will meet with each party, the child, and any relevant third party witnesses. However, the evaluator will also require a retainer to be paid for their services. Just like with attorney retainers, the amount of the retainer required by the evaluator will depend on the complexity of the matter. In general, plan for at least $3,000 – $5,000 to start. If the evaluator performs work that exceeds the retainer paid, they will request additional payment before finalizing their services.
Another common cost comes from an expert who evaluates a business owned by the spouses or one spouse. The evaluator will conduct an in depth analysis of the business income and expenses, which is different from expenses that can be written off for federal tax purposes. The evaluator may also assess how much money the spouse working in the business should be paying himself/herself. This is assist with child support and spousal support calculations. The complexity of the business will determine the retainer amount. In general, plan for at least $3,000 – $5,000 to start. Just like with the child custody evaluator, if the business evaluator performs work that exceeds the retainer paid, they will request additional payment before finalizing their services.
Miscellaneous Fees: There are other various costs that may apply to your matter. The most common is for a court reporter for court hearings. The San Diego Superior Court does not offer a court reporter for all matters. They only offer a reporter for domestic violence matters, and other hearings that are only scheduled for 20 – 40 minutes. If you have a long cause hearing (1 hour or longer) or a trial, a court reporter will not be provided for you. Thus, it is the party’s responsibility to bring a certified court reporter to the hearing. You can find a list of court approved reporters here. Typical costs range from $365 for half day and $775 for full day reporting.
Another common expense is for a process server. The cost will depend on where the other party resides and how many attempts are needed before the other party is served. This can range anywhere from $25 – $150 if served within California. If the other party resides outside of California, the fee may be higher.
Finally, if you serve a subpoena to a bank for records, they will usually charge you for research time and copy costs. Thus, it is important to only request statements for time periods that are relevant, otherwise you will be paying a tremendous amount! Find out from the bank what their fees are before sending the subpoena, as this will help you assess how much information to want to request.
For a general overview of the fees and costs associated with your matter, feel free to contact our office: Contact Us.