The Costs of Divorce
Why There is No Such Thing as a Free Divorce
There are two types of legal expenses in a divorce case: attorney fees and legal costs. Attorney fees are payment for your attorney’s work. Legal costs include (but are not limited to) court fees, fees to experts (such as property valuators and accountants), mediator/arbitrator fees, computer research charges, copying and telephone charges, etc. If you have minor children, there may be fees for a parenting evaluator, an independent attorney for the child, and parenting classes.
In addition to the legal expenses, you will have other, personal costs during the divorce process. Some of these costs will be upfront and some will be long-term. You should prepare and plan for these costs, because there really is no way to get a free divorce.
If you and your spouse live separately during the divorce, there will be the increased cost of maintaining two separate households. Living separately may also increase childcare costs. There is also the cost of your time: a divorce case can take up a great deal of your personal time and often requires time away from work if you are employed. You will need to spend time meeting with your family law attorney, filling out paperwork, finding and submitting documents, appearing at mediation or in court, and researching and collecting information you will need to provide your attorney. You may need to attend counseling to deal with the emotions of divorce.
Then there are ongoing costs that result from the financial effects of the divorce: decreased (divided) assets, child support, spousal support, separate health insurance costs, etc. These costs may last for years, depending on your divorce judgment.
With all of those unavoidable costs, some people attempt to save money on attorney fees by resolving their divorce case without a family law attorney. Typically, people representing themselves spend time and money working on their divorce but end up retaining an attorney anyway, or they overlook important issues, such as considerations for retirement accounts or social security, and end up paying for those mistakes indefinitely.
The same can happen if you hire an attorney who is too inexperienced, unprofessional, or not knowledgeable enough about family law or divorce cases like yours: you end up hiring a better attorney or end up living with the long-term consequences of errors made in your case.
While a good lawyer’s bill can be pretty big, it’s a smart investment. Making sure you get the best possible legal advice and outcome in your divorce case is the most effective way to protect your finances and family relationships in the long run.
How to Reduce Your Divorce Costs
The more argumentative your divorce case is, the more it will likely cost. Maintaining civil and constructive communication with your spouse and his or her attorney is the number one way you can save money on legal fees. But of course, this strategy requires both parties to approach their case in a similarly cooperative manner.
It is not a good idea to try to negotiate legal issues before hiring a family law attorney. You may end up promising your spouse things that you later learn, after discussing with your attorney, are not in your (or your children’s) best interest. This can cause conflict and negative outcomes that could have been avoided by speaking with an attorney before attempting negotiations.
Avoiding litigation is another cost-saver. You should try to resist the emotional impulse to fight over every issue. Knowing when to compromise in order to reduce conflict will help you reduce the costs of your case. Your attorney should be just as willing to negotiate as to fight in court and should discuss these tactics with you when you prepare the strategy for your case. However, it is important to also keep in mind that the decisions and agreements you reach now will impact your life forever. Therefore, while it is in your best interest to negotiate in good faith, it is not in your best interest to give up rights and interests that are important to you and your future.
Attorney Fees: Who Pays For The Attorney?
You should be prepared to pay your own legal and attorney fees in a divorce case. In Oregon, the most common outcome is that each spouse pays for his or her own attorney unless there is bad faith by one side, or sometimes if there is a substantial difference in the parties’ financial positions.
Attorney Fees: How Much Does An Attorney Cost?
Most lawyers charge an hourly rate for services rendered. This generally ranges from $200 to $500 per hour, and is usually billed in 5- to 10-minute increments. When you retain an attorney, you almost always pay an advance fee deposit (“retainer”), which is put into a trust account. The attorney fees and other costs are deducted from the advance fee deposit as your case progresses and fees and costs are earned. If the advance deposit runs out, you must generally make further advance fee deposits to pay the attorney’s hourly rate and other fees if incurred. If there is money left in the trust account when your case is closed, the remainder is returned to you.
If the attorney has a staff that includes paralegals and associate attorneys, some of your case work will likely get assigned to other staff members, and you will be charged at a lower hourly rate for their work. This can be a cost-saver.
Some lawyers in Oregon may charge a flat, overall fee, especially for uncontested divorces. Divorce lawyers are prohibited by Oregon law from charging a contingent (percentage) fee in your case.
As the Pacific Northwest’s largest family law firm, McKinley Irvin’s depth of resources allows us to assemble a team of top-notch legal professionals at our Portland office for your particular family law matter. Your primary attorney will work with our staff of associate attorneys and paralegals and assign tasks according to the knowledge, skill level and billing rate necessary to complete it. This means that much of the work done on your case is billed at a rate much lower than your primary attorney’s hourly rate. Not only does this reduce your legal costs, it also means that case work is completed in an organized, timely and efficient manner.
In Oregon, court fees can include (but are not limited to) the following:
- The Petition Filing Fee. This is the fee paid to file a divorce petition with the court. As of May 2016, the filing fee in Oregon is $273.
- Service. Serving divorce papers on your spouse typically costs around $60.
- The Petition Response Fee. The spouse who receives a divorce summons and petition must pay a fee to file his or her response to the petition with the court. As of January 2011, the respondent’s fee is $273 in Oregon.
- Trial Fee. If your case goes to trial, you will also pay a trial fee if you are the petitioner.
- Motion Filing/Respondent Fees. You may have to pay fees when a motion is filed with the court or when you file a response to a motion, depending on the nature of the motion.
There are similar Oregon court fees associated with annulment, legal separation and dissolution of a domestic partnership.
Ongoing Financial Impact of Divorce
After divorce, your lifestyle and finances will be impacted, possibly for years. Understanding the financial implications of divorce will help you manage your finances. You may need to adjust to living with a lower income or taking on more responsibility for expenses. You make need to get a job or change jobs. Or you may have to adjust to making child support or spousal support payments. You may lose equity in your house if you have to sell it quickly. Your taxes will also be impacted by these changes, and child custody considerations will also impact your finances and your taxes.