What is the Average Retainer Fee for a Divorce Lawyer?

Blue border with the words "average divorce retainer" in blach and the gold freed marcroft divorce and family law logo on the lower right corner You’ve decided to divorce, and are wondering what the average retainer fee is for a divorce lawyer.

Attorney fees, together with property division, alimony and spousal support, and child support, comprise the major financial considerations in a divorce or other family law matter.

When it comes to legal fees (and everything else) we want you to come into this with open eyes and a full understanding of everything that is going on, so please read on for an explanation of retainer’s work in Connecticut divorces.

With that, let’s take a look at divorce attorneys’ average retainer fees.

Average Divorce Retainer Fees

Freed Marcroft’s initial retainers generally range from $2,000 to $50,000 depending on the complexity of the case. Most often, our divorce retainers range from $7,500 to $12,500.

One study out there from FindLaw put the average cost of divorce in Connecticut in 2020 at $12.000+.  Ascent pinned the 2020 average cost of a divorce in the US at $12,900, while cases that went to court on two or more issues averaged $23,300.  Bankrate’s 2017 survey puts the average at $15,000, while a “contentious divorce that drags out for years and includes a custody dispute can cost more than $100,000.”

An average cost of divorce doesn’t tell you much at all about what your divorce will cost.  (That said, those Ascent figures do emphasize the point that whether you reach agreements or ask a judge to decide has a tremendous impact on the cost of your divorce.)

Read: Don’t Add Fuel to the Fire: Five Tips for Smoother Communication During Divorce

How Legal Fees Work

First, a little bit about how legal fees work.  This varies from law firm to law firm, and even from client to client.  We will use a common scenario here at Freed Marcroft as an example.

If we decide to work together after your Goals & Planning Session, we will enter into an “Engagement Agreement” that governs how our relationship will work – including with respect to legal fees and retainer.  You should review it very carefully so you understand our commitments to each other and how they work.

As your Engagement Agreement describes, you are charged for the time your legal team spends working on your case – or what many people refer to as “by the hour.”  Not every member of your team will have the same hourly rate, and at Freed Marcroft we allocate work so that it is done by the most efficient member of your team for that purpose.

You might wonder why we bill for our time rather than just charge one fee for the entire divorce.  As we’ve mentioned, divorce isn’t “one size fits all,” including legal fees.  Billing by the hour means that your legal fees are tailored to your case alone, and you will pay for only the time we spend working to get you towards your goals.

Read: How Legal Fees Work

Divorce Retainer Explanation

A retainer is an upfront deposit that you pay to hire a law firm. At Freed Marcroft, we take this payment and put it in trust for our client. A retainer isn’t an estimate of your total legal fees, it’s a deposit.  You can fund your retainer by check, electronic check, credit card, cash, or someone else can pay on your behalf.

The time your legal team members like lawyers and paralegals spend on your case plus court costs and fees will be deducted from the retainer amount that you have in trust.  All charges against your retainer will be detailed in your invoice, so you will be up to speed on what’s happening on your case and how we are spending our time to move you forward toward your goals.  No matter what, your funds will be in a trust account for you and remain your funds until we bill against them.

Freed Marcroft refunds any remaining unused retainer funds you have to you at the conclusion of your divorce or our representation.

Read: How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

Divorce Lawyer Retainer Fee

As we mentioned, Freed Marcroft’s initial retainers generally range from $2,000 to $50,000 depending on the complexity of the case. Most initial divorce retainers range from $7,500 to $12,500.

We will let you know the retainer for your case when we meet at your Goals & Planning Conference.  Retainers, like everything in a divorce, are not “one size fits all.”  Some of the factors that impact a divorce retainer may include the complexity of the assets involved, whether there are children, your spouse’s attorney, international factors, and whether there are any family members with disabilities, international components, and how those involved choose to handle the legal process.  More than anything, the level of cooperation or conflict that exists between the two people divorcing will ultimately have the most significant impact on legal fees.

Although you can’t control your spouse’s decisions, timeframe, or lawyer, you are in charge of yourself and that is very powerful.

For some creative ideas on funding legal fees, read: Can I Withdraw Retirement Funds to Pay My Divorce Attorneys’ Fees?

“Evergreen” Retainers

A retainer isn’t an estimate of your total legal fees, it’s a deposit that is held in trust.  Generally speaking, when you have spent about half of your retainer funds, you will be asked to bring your balance back up or “replenish” your retainer.  As with everything, the specifics of this are contained in your “Engagement Agreement.”  At Freed Marcroft, you will receive frequent bills, so you will be up to speed on what’s happening on your case and can prepare in advance for a replenishment request.

All remaining retainer funds are refunded to you at the conclusion of our representation.

Next Steps

At Freed Marcroft, we have helped hundreds of people move forward to a better life.  At our first step, the Goals & Planning Conference, we start by working through these questions with you to help you figure out your goals.  If you decide that divorce is part of what you need to do to get you to the future you want, we can help you.  If it isn’t, we will support you and help you figure out what you need to get you there instead.

Let’s keep you moving forward.