Debunking Common Misconceptions about Attorneys’ Fees in Divorce

  •   |   Meghan Freed

white box with blue border and the words "Attorney Fee Myths" in black.Updated November 30, 2023

There are many common misconceptions about attorneys’ fees in divorce.  At Freed Marcroft, it’s critical to us that you understand what’s happening in your case, including our charges for legal fees.  Today we will address some top misconceptions surrounding attorneys’ fees and divorce costs. After we debunk these myths, you”ll have a clearer understanding of the factors that influence fees.  Plus, you’ll be make more informed decisions during your divorce.

Please read on.

Misconception 1: Retainers Are Not a Legal Fee Estimate

One common misconception is mistaking the retainer for an estimate of fees. In reality, a retainer is a deposit held in trust to cover future legal fees. It is not a flat fee or even an estimate of the total cost of your divorce.  The actual fees you incur depend on what we do in your case, and are deducted from the retainer.  In other words, anticipate that you may have to “replenish” your retainer.  Your engagement agreement with us explains how all of this works. If you ever have any questions, please let us know.

Read: What Is the Average Retainer for a Divorce Attorney?

Read: What Is an Evergreen Retainer?

Misconception 2: Your Attorney’s Hourly Rate Dictates the Cost of Your Divorce

When people are trying to figure out the cost of a divorce, one of the first things they ask is their primary attorney’s hourly rate.  It makes sense. The hourly rate is a concrete number.  However, it’s a mistake to overly weigh the attorney’s hourly rate alone when trying to get an advanced sense of the total cost of their divorce. While the hourly rate is a significant factor, it is just one piece of the puzzle. The total cost is determined by multiplying the hourly rate by the time spent on your case. Understanding this equation will help you better grasp how the fees are calculated.

Read: How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

Misconception 3: A Lower Hourly Rate Means the Divorce Will Cost Less

Assuming that a lower hourly rate will automatically result in cost savings during your divorce is another misconception. It’s essential to consider the total value provided by an attorney. Attorneys with higher rates often bring greater experience, strategic insights, and efficiency to your case, potentially saving you time and money in the long run.  In other words, legal fees are just one element of the potential “cost” of divorce.  Other team members, such as paralegals, often bill at lower rates.

Read: How Do Legal Fees Work?

Read: Understanding Hourly Billing

Misconception 4: Most Attorney Time Is Spent With Me or in Court

Some people mistakenly believe that most of their attorney’s time is spend on things that they can see.  For example, in lawyer client meetings or in court. In reality, some of the most critical and valuable work in your matter will occur outside both your presence and the courtroom, even in litigated divorces.  For example, designing a proposed strategy for your case, preparing for your meeting or for court, and engaging in settlement negotiations, are all critical pieces to moving forward towards your goals.  And, they largely happen outside your presence.

This is why communicating with your attorney, including reading your invoices and updates from your legal team, is crucial.  This will help you stay informed about the progress of your case. Invoices provide case updates, highlighting the work done to advance your divorce. In addition, timely responses to your legal team’s requests ensure that you make important decisions to keep your divorce moving forward.

Read: Why You Should Read Your Legal Bills

Misconception 5: Both Spouses Will Have Equal Attorneys’ Fees

It can be misleading to assume that you and your spouse will have almost identical legal fees. As discussed above, fees depend on various factors, including the complexity of each spouse’s needs, the work required, and individual preferences for background information and guidance. Understanding that fees can differ based on these factors will help manage expectations and avoid misconceptions.

Read: Who Pays Legal Fees in a Divorce?

Misconception 6: Attorneys’ Fees Are Totally Outside Your Control

First, we want to acknowledge that the unknown about attorneys fees can be stressful.  There are indeed certain things that your lawyer must do to properly and ethically represent you.  (Most of the time, for excellent reasons.) In addition, sometimes the court and your spouse and their attorney will not be as proactive or efficient as you would like.  The truth is that this tends to increase your legal fees and the timeline of your divorce.

That said, it’s a mistake to think that your legal fees are outside your control.  At Freed Marcroft, we will be candid with you about the impact of different strategy options on your attorneys’ fees.  For example, if you are considering scheduling a deposition, we will explain the potential associated legal fees and expenses so that you can weigh them against the potential upsides.  In addition, there are also opportunities for cost savings in how you work with us.  For example, contacting your paralegal is more efficient than your lawyer.  Plus, asking multiple questions at once is generally more efficient than a series of communications.  And, if you need a refresher on the current status of your divorce, it is often more efficient to refer back to a summary we provided you to see if it answers your question before re-asking.

Read: How to Help Keep Your Legal Fees Down

Read: Don’t Mistake Truth for Weakness: It’s Strength

Next Steps

By dispelling these common misconceptions about attorneys’ fees and divorce costs, you can approach the attorney’s fees aspect of your divorce with greater clarity and confidence. Holistically assess the value provided by your attorney, consider the work outside the courtroom, and understand that fees can vary between spouses. We want you to know that open communication with your legal team and a proactive approach to understanding the billing process will contribute to a smoother, more informed divorce experience and a better working relationship with your lawyer and team.

Freed Marcroft LLC

Freed Marcroft LLC