By Colleen Honquest
Saving money in a divorce is paramount. Mediation is the best cost-saving option available to couples who can agree on family and financial issues. However, if you are going to Court, a fixed fee divorce is an option to consider. Normally, there are two ways to bill in family law: hourly or fixed fee. Hourly attorneys ask for a retainer upfront. A retainer is like a deposit. The attorney bills hours each month against the retainer. After the retainer is used, the attorney will request a new retainer. Fixed-fee attorneys provide you a list of tasks that they will complete and a timeline for your case and an estimate for its completion. This is all that you pay. The amount of hours to complete the task is irrelevant. For someone who is looking for an economical divorce, a fixed-fee divorce lawyer may be the way to go. After all, the cost can be one of the key factors to consider when hiring a divorce lawyer. Fixed fee offers both the client and the attorney advantages over the hourly fees.
“At the beginning of the case we give our client a timeline of the case. This shows them what exactly it will take to get through the process and what will be involved.” Katie VanDeusen, family attorney
You Can Budget for Attorney Fees
Katie VanDeusen, a family attorney from Sterling Law Offices in Illinois says, “At the beginning of the case we give our client a timeline of the case. This shows them what exactly it will take to get through the process and what will be involved.” With a fixed fee (aka flat fee), you know exactly how much your divorce is going to cost. There will never be that sinking feeling of receiving the attorney bill in your inbox at the end of the month, wondering how much the bill will be. Fixed-fee attorneys don’t send bills because the fee has already been estimated and paid. With a fixed-fee divorce, you don’t have to make that phone call, asking why you were charged $85 for an email that took two minutes to type and less for the attorney to read. The attorney doesn’t bill for time with a fixed fee.
You and Your Attorney Share the Same Goal
If you pay by the hour, where is the incentive for the attorney to get the case signed, sealed, and delivered? In fact, it’s the opposite of hourly attorneys. If your attorney spends an extra hour reviewing a document or arguing with the other attorney, you pay them more. When you pay your divorce lawyer a fixed fee, the attorney has an incentive to get a good result, quicker. Katie VanDeusen, a family attorney who uses the fixed-fee model says, “Fixed-fee divorce aligns the goals and incentives of both the client and the attorney. For example, if the attorney is paid by how many hours they bill, the attorney may want to have more billable hours or not be incentivized to settle a case. The attorney in the fixed-fee divorce model makes the same fee whether a hearing or work on a case takes two hours or four hours. Therefore, they are motivated to get it done as efficiently as possible.”
You Can Ask All Those Questions
Most people going through a divorce have a thousand questions. There are a lot of “what if’s” in their case they would like answered or explained. Many of those people will call their attorney or send them an email with these questions. With hourly attorneys, you pay for every minute your divorce lawyer spends reading and replying to your questions. VanDeusen says, “You’re not getting nickeled and dimed for every phone call or email. Communication is, therefore, more open and the process is more transparent for the client.” With a fixed-fee attorney, there is no extra charge for those questions. All emails and calls are included for the same fixed fee.
No Billing Disputes
Attorneys go to great lengths to avoid surprises, but they can still happen. For hourly attorneys, those surprises (for the client) appear on the monthly bill. These surprises are either accepted and paid or you dispute the bill. Arguing with your attorney over an invoice while you are fighting your spouse in divorce court is not a fun position to be in. With fixed fees, there are no disputes. You were given an estimate before the work was even started. The estimate is all that you pay.
A Fixed-Fee System Encourages Your Attorney to Plan Ahead
Fixed-fee attorneys need to stay organized. They need a plan for how to quickly and efficiently accomplish your divorce goals. Fixed fee attorneys find that if they plan out each step in detail then execute their plan, things move along quickly. You can get through this and start the next chapter in your life. “Hourly billing by an attorney adds a layer of stress and tension on top of an already stressful situation for a client”, says Katie VanDeusen. In hourly billing, there is no financial incentive for the attorney to plan ahead.
When You May Not Want a Fixed-Fee Attorney (or Any Attorney) There are a few circumstances where you may be better off with an hourly attorney. Filing an uncontested divorce (aka joint petition), a divorce with few assets, no children, or no request for alimony might be better with an hourly attorney or no attorney. If the case is only going to take a few hours or a quick review of the documents, then an hourly model may be better suited. It is up to you, as a client, to seek the best representation for your case. Katie VanDeusen of Sterling Law Offices offers a free consultation to potential clients.
By Colleen Honquest, Divorce Mediator and Certified Divorce Coach
Free 30 Minute Consult with Colleen: firstname.lastname@example.org