How much will my case cost?
The Top Four Determining Factors
That may be the number one thing on everyone’s mind that is involved in a divorce, custody, or other family law case. If not, it’s close to the top.
Divorce and Custody Attorneys hear it all the time. The follow-up question is: Why can’t you tell me how much this will cost?
The reason is that the cost generally depends upon several factors, none of which your attorney controls. Most attorneys charge an hourly rate and most of the few that don’t have a number of “outs” that allow their “flat fees” to not really end up being flat fees, so these thoughts still apply.
So the bottom line is that an attorney cannot generally tell you what your case will cost because he or she does not know how much of his or her time it will take to handle the case.
Here are a few things that impact the amount of time that a case requires and which then affect how much the case will cost:
1. What your spouse or ex does
Fighting takes time. If your spouse or ex is the type that will fight about things that are insignificant, refuse to answer questions the first time he or she is asked, and generally make things more difficult, your attorney is going to have to spend more time dealing with your case.
2. What your spouse’s or ex’s attorney does
Attorneys can disagree without being disagreeable. The Texas Supreme Court came up with a thing called the Texas Lawyer’s Creed a couple of decades ago because the problem of lawyers being so disagreeable had gotten out of hand. The Lawyer’s Creed contains some rules, including things like this:
I will not quarrel over matters of form or style, but I will concentrate on matters of substance.
I will readily stipulate to undisputed facts in order to avoid needless costs or inconvenience for any party.
I will refrain from excessive and abusive discovery.
I will comply with all reasonable discovery requests. I will not resist discovery requests which are not objectionable.
I will not make objections nor give instructions to a witness for the purpose of delaying or obstructing the discovery process.
If both your attorney and the opposing attorney will follow these rules, your case will cost less. If not, it will cost more.
3. What the court does
Courts have different rules and different ways of doing things. If your court requires the attorneys to appear in person to tell the judge what the status of the case is, that will cost more than if the attorneys can send an email to the court coordinator. If the court requires a pre-trial hearing to set a case for trial, instead of a call or visit to the court coordinator, the hearing will be more expensive. If the court believes that an Amicus attorney should be appointed to look after the interest of the children in a custody case, that will cost more than if the Amicus was not appointed.
4. The decisions that you make
Finally, you will have some choices to make throughout the case. When you are asked a question in discovery, your decision on whether to answer fully and completely on the first request will have an impact on how much the case costs. If you are in a county with associate judges, your decision on whether to appeal the associate judge’s ruling or not will determine whether another hearing is needed. Deciding to appeal may be the right decision, but it will mean preparation for and conducting another hearing – which leads to more attorneys’ fees.
So, why can’t your lawyer tell you how much the case is going to cost? Because neither you nor your attorney knows what the future holds. Neither of you knows how much time your attorney is going to have to spend dealing with your case, and without that information, there is no way to know.
There are things you can do to save money.
Some of them are found in one of our other articles, Six Ways to Save Money in Your Case.
One of the biggest is: find a lawyer that you trust and ask questions along the way about the choices that need to be made, and how the decisions will impact both the cost on the front end — the attorneys’ fees — and the cost on the back end — the result.