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Estimating Costs in Your Divorce

It is extremely difficult to accurately estimate the total amount of attorney fees in a dissolution of marriage case. What is fairly straightforward in one person’s case may be very complicated in another’s.

The filing fee in a dissolution of marriage case is about $300. There may be an additional fee of about $50 if we use the Sheriff or a process server to serve the Summons and Petition on your spouse.

Attorney fees are based on the amount of time spent working on your case, whether it is meeting with you, appearing in court, discussing matters with you on the phone, negotiating with your spouse or your spouse’s attorney, drafting legal documents, or related matters.

Estimating the amount of attorney fees in your case would require one to be able to predict every facet of the proceedings, including specifically how difficult your spouse will be to work with. We can give you an analogy, coming from a past client who was in the business of doing major repairs on automobiles. When customers came to him and asked for an estimate of what it would take to return their car to working order, without him having an opportunity to determine the nature of the problem, he could only tell them what they might expect. Until he looked under the hood and disassembled some parts, he could not accurately diagnose the problem and estimate costs of repair.

In our experience some cases are relatively easy to negotiate. Unless you feel otherwise, we always would try to negotiate all matters in your dissolution so that we need not go to trial. Trial is expensive, generally emotionally draining, and usually results in a compromise which the attorneys should have been able to predict. However, as much as we may try to keep the matter out of court, it sometimes becomes necessary to go to court when one or more issues, such as child custody, the level of child support, the level and duration of spousal support, or the division of marital property, cannot be agreed upon by you and your spouse.

Even what seems like the simplest and smoothest dissolution requires meeting with you to determine your situation and your needs, formulating a settlement proposal for your spouse and coming to an agreement with your spouse through negotiation. Dissolution proceedings become more complex if there is a need for getting various court orders at the start, holding a “show cause” hearing for temporary support or other relief, evaluating and fighting for custody or parenting time, supervising appraisal and valuation of marital property, and/or going to trial.

The simplest dissolution should be expected to require about 8 to 10 hours of attorney time. While no one can say with certainty what the most time required might be, in cases where there has been a major battle, where it has been desirable to take depositions of your spouse and/or other witnesses, or where it has been necessary to investigate the marital assets, it has not been unusual to see as many as 50 to 100 hours or more of attorney time expended on a case. If you are unsure that you know about all of the marital assets, we will conduct “discovery,” including probably the taking of your spouse’s deposition, just to try and find out about all assets and their values.

Attorney fees spent on a dissolution of marriage are an investment in your economic and emotional peace of mind. If the job is done correctly and you are kept fully aware of developments in your case, the best result will be obtained at the most reasonable cost. We believe that you should be continually informed of what is happening in your case. We will try to send you copies of all incoming and outgoing correspondence and pleadings, for example. We will make recommendations to you but will leave to you the final decisions on what positions to take on major questions involving your case. The fees in a dissolution case may seem high, but in view of similar major expenses which we all incur from time to time, such as the commission on selling a home or other piece of real estate, our clients have told us that the fees are well worth the cost. In many dissolution cases the amount of attorney fees you pay to resolve dozens of issues in a case will be less money than the real estate commission would be to sell the parties’ house.

In domestic relations cases, attorney fees are generally not tax deductible. However, attorney fees related to some issues in divorce cases may be tax deductible. Attorney fees relating to a claim for spousal support, attorney fees related to income-producing property, and attorney fees for tax advice may be tax deductible. You should ask your lawyer for an estimate of the amount of attorney fees attributable to these potentially tax-deductible issues so that you can discuss with your CPA or tax preparer claiming the proper tax deduction on your tax returns.