This question is perhaps the most common question divorce lawyers face in their practices. And the answer is virtually impossible to ascertain early in the process, however distressing that is to potential clients. The reasons for the lack of certainty regarding overall cost are many and varied. Every case is different, for one thing – different property issues, different business issues, different custody issues, different support issues. And perhaps most importantly, different psychological and emotional dynamics will be in play in every case. The single most relevant factor in evaluating what a case will cost is the ability of the parties (and attorneys) to “play nice in the sandbox.” If one party or attorney takes an unreasonably aggressive stance on an issue, or is not cooperative in the fact gathering process, or prefers litigation to negotiation, the overall cost of responding to such a party or attorney may grow exponentially. Evaluating the case issues early, and also evaluating the likelihood of the other side to engage in “scorched earth” tactics, can enable someone seeking a divorce to anticipate costs – but issue spotting and “best case” – “worst-case” scenarios will only get one so far. The ultimate cost is impossible to estimate at the beginning of a case, and an attorney that suggests such an ultimate cost is either overly optimistic or inexperienced.
What a qualified Family Law attorney should be doing for a client, though, is a constant and on-going analysis of case costs during each and every billing period. The attorney-client relationship is based on transparency and trust, after all – and a good attorney will be direct with the client on what anticipated costs will be in light of the developing tactics and strategies employed both by his or her own side and by the other side, as well. Of course, the more initially complicated the case, the higher the initial deposit that the attorney will likely require. Family Law attorneys can also represent clients on a “Limited Scope” basis – which simply means that they will be assisting a particular client on one or two discrete issues, and will not represent the client for everything in the case. Limited Scope representation can bring much more certainty to overall costs, and is an excellent choice for a potential client with only one or two complex issues in the overall case.