One of the questions we often get during our first meeting with a client is this: how much is this going to cost? This is an understandable question. Going through a divorce or child custody case can be expensive. Before hiring a lawyer, it is important to understand the financial agreement you have with your lawyer. Predicting the cost of a divorce is usually an impossible task, but this will explain some of what you can expect.

The first step is to review and sign a written contract with your lawyer. This contract is sometimes called a “retainer agreement.” This written contract will include the scope of the lawyer’s work and the financial agreement you have with the lawyer.

It is customary in divorce cases for lawyers to charge for their time by the hour. The contract with the lawyer will include the lawyer’s hourly rate, as well as the hourly rate for other staff in the firm. Lawyers base their hourly rate on several factors, including how long they have been a lawyer and whether they have special certifications. Lawyers and their staff will charge you for all their work on your case, including court appearances, correspondence, drafting legal documents, answering discovery, and conferences with you about your case.

Most family lawyers require the payment of a “retainer.” A retainer is essentially a deposit made into a bank account held by the lawyer to pay for the lawyer’s fees and expenses associated with your case. Since the retainer is only a deposit, the total cost of your case may be more or less than the initial retainer deposit. Texas law requires lawyers to keep client funds in a special bank account, known as an IOLTA account. It is the lawyer’s duty to hold these funds in trust for the client. The lawyer may only use these funds for the purposes stated in the contract between you and your lawyer.

Once you hire a lawyer, your lawyer will periodically send you a bill with an itemization of all the work done on your case. It is at this point that the lawyer may pay themselves from the retainer deposit. These itemized statements may exceed the amount on deposit with the lawyer. In this case, you will need to pay lawyer more than the initial deposit.

This begs the question of how much a divorce will cost. Unfortunately, this is very difficult to predict. Some cases are very simple and amicable. When both spouses and their attorneys work together, it can often make the case less expensive.  However, when a case is a highly contested divorce, attorney’s fees will increase. The more complicated the case is, the more hours your lawyer will need to work on your case and the more expensive a divorce or child custody case can become. There are often things beyond the control of the lawyer that can drive up the cost.

Although predicting the total cost of a divorce or custody case is usually not possible, here at Thompson Salinas Londergan, we prioritize having our agreements in writing and answering your questions about the cost as we proceed with your case.

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