As a divorce lawyer, the question I am asked most often is also the question that is the most difficult to answer – “How much will this divorce cost?” No matter how hard I try – the words I use, the analogies I make – I cannot give my clients a satisfactory answer. The short answer is: “It depends.” There are a number of factors that affect the ultimate cost of a divorce:
- Do you or your spouse want to litigate or cooperate?
- Do you want to spend thousands fighting over a cornbread pan? (True story. Ask me about it sometime.)
- Are you or your spouse looking for retribution or just a clean break?
- Do you run straight to your lawyer when your spouse makes you angry?
- Can you co-parent with your spouse?
- Can you and your spouse communicate, or does everything need to go through the attorneys?
- How responsive are you to your lawyer?
What is the Fixed-Fee Divorce?
The fixed fee divorce takes the guesswork out of the cost of a divorce. Typically, divorce lawyers handle cases on an hourly basis, the client will pay a retainer which is a lump sum of money that the attorney puts in a client’s trust account. Funds from the retainer are transferred to the lawyer each month to pay the hourly billing invoice. The retainer may be depleted, but the fees will continue to accumulate.
I’ve found that there is some degree of predictability in divorce cases. I know in every case a petition will be filed, the terms of the divorce will be negotiated, the decree will be drafted, and there will be a prove-up hearing. I can tell a client how much a basic divorce will cost. That’s predictability. The client can have that level of certainty. Beyond the basic divorce, there are numerous things that can happen – mediation, written discovery, depositions, temporary orders hearings, bench trial, jury trial, etc. I can predict what each of these activities will cost a client. But I cannot predict which of this activities will take place if any.
So here is how the fixed fee divorce works. You pay for the basic divorce. If that’s all you need, that’s all you ever pay. You only pay for other legal services if you need them. This fee structure gives you the ability to do a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether a particular course of action needs to be taken. It also gives you some control over the cost of your divorce.
I wish I could take credit for this concept, but the fixed fee divorce is much more common in other states. For whatever reason, the fixed fee divorce just isn’t done in Texas. Well, that’s about to change.
Does this mean my divorce will be cheaper?
The short answer is “no”. You are not necessarily getting a cheaper divorce. You are getting a board certified family law specialist and the same level of experience and expertise as if I were billing you by the hour. Your case may end up being less expensive because you will know what a particular course of action will cost before you commit. It may be less expensive, but it won’t necessarily be cheap.
We are not competing based on price, we are competing based on the client experience. We do our best to set a fair fixed fee for your divorce. If you feel the fee is fair, you have the choice to move forward with us.
What’s in it for the client?
- Quicker resolution and completion of cases.
- Avoiding the feeling of being nickeled and dimed.
- Comfort in knowing you can call your lawyer and not feel like the clock is ticking.
- Places the risk on the lawyer instead of the client.
- Ability to do a cost-benefit analysis.
- A dramatic reduction in stress over fees.
Hourly billing places all of the risks on the client. If the spouse avoids service of process, the client pays. If it takes longer to finalize a decree because the opposing party is difficult or unresponsive, the client pays. The fixed fee divorce places the risk on the lawyer. We are the experts. It is our preference to bear the risk. The amount of the fee doesn’t go up when things get difficult.
Other lawyers will read this article and assume I’m crazy. “Why in the world would you choose to bear the risk?” Well, keep reading.
What’s in it for the lawyer?
- Freedom from the clock. Keeping track of hourly billing take time and effort.
- Eliminates the tension between lawyer and client caused by the billable hour.
- Ability to focus on the practice of law (your case) rather than the business of law (your money).
The billable hour creates tension between the lawyer and the client. The client is left in the dark, and the level of trust declines as the fees climb. When money is owed, it erodes trust in the attorney-client relationship. The attorney begins to focus too much on whether the client will pay. The client begins to focus too much on whether the lawyer will do the job. Progress in the case slows down, and the client is frustrated.
At Hayes, Berry, White & Vanzant, we want happy clients because happy clients refer more cases, and that’s good for business.
Call us to set up a consultation. We may do things differently, but we do them well. Let us help you with your divorce. Contact us here or at (940) 387-3518. We are at 512 W. Hickory Street, Suite 100 in Denton, Texas.
We practice in Denton, Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, Cooke and Wise Counties. Denton, Lewisville, Flower Mound, Highland Village, Argyle and Frisco.