One of the most common questions I get is, “How much will my divorce cost?” For anything except the most simple case, there is no way to predict the cost of a divorce. It depends on the type of divorce process the couple chooses to pursue, if the opponent has an attorney or is representing themselves, the methods used by the opposing attorney, the court that the case is filed in, the complexity of the issues, whether or not the parties are disputing custody of and visitation with the children of the marriage, and the level of hostility between the parties, to name a few.
I often see people who come in for legal help after getting a DIY divorce, also called “pro se” divorce. They discover the holes or shortcomings in their final divorce decree because they overlooked some things or didn’t understand the impact of certain terms. The result of saving money during the divorce by doing it themselves is that they are forced to spend money to go back to court to modify the children’s terms or to clarify or enforce the property terms of their decree. There is nothing wrong with reaching an agreement with your spouse concerning the children and the marital property division but having an experienced family law attorney prepare the correct documentation is important.
The contested divorce is the most expensive method of divorce. Divorce attorneys normally charge an hourly rate, with an initial deposit which is also called a “retainer.” Most cases will be more expensive that the initial retainer because they involve complex pleadings, document production, inventories, discovery questions, witnesses, depositions, expert witnesses, custody evaluations, psychological evaluations, forensic accountants, receivers, etc. When a divorce involves all or many of these issues, the hours that the attorney must spend on your case mounts and the cost goes up. If the case involves submitting issues to a jury, which is allowed in Texas, that much more time will be necessary for the attorney to prepare and try the case in front of a jury.
Since January 1, 2021, there are new discovery rules for a family law litigated case that require us to disclose our case approach and produce our documents to the other side within 30 days after the respondent files an answer in the case. Although these rules just went into effect in 2021, attorneys anticipate that the new rules will result in more fees being spent at the beginning of a litigated case, with the hope that money will be saved with this approach.
A Collaborative Divorce
A collaborative divorce may appear to be the most expensive method of divorce because the parties are asked to pay up front for the services of neutral collaborative professionals like the mental health professional, the financial professional, and other professional team members, in addition to their own attorney’s retainer.
In the long run, a collaborative divorce usually saves money because the incentive is to settle instead of fighting it out in court. The parties can save on having one neutral professional such as an accountant or psychologist to help them settle the case, instead of “dueling experts”. Everyone on the collaborative team is pulling for the same result, to allow the couple to move on with their lives and let the family heal after they have a Collaborative Settlement Agreement.