Experienced attorneys charge an hourly rate for handling family law matters with a retainer fee paid in advance. Attorney fees are based on several factors, including: experience of the attorney; the nature of services provided; complexity of the issues involved; amount of time required; in a divorce, the size of the marital estate. At the outset of a case, it is impossible for the attorney to know the total cost of the proceeding as it is unknown how the opposing party will behave and how difficult it will be to deal with them. Highly conflicted cases will result in greater expense. At all times, there should be a written agreement which sets forth the terms of representation, including how fees and expenses will be charged to the client.
In the situation where one party is in a financially inferior position to the other due to employment differences, lack of income and/or lack of access to funds, the court rules provide that attorney fees and expenses can be awarded to the requesting party upon a factual showing that the party “is unable to bear the expense of the action, and that the other party is able to pay…”
In addition to attorney fees, there are court expenses for filing the case and then serving the papers on the other party. Expenses may be incurred by way of: court reporters for taking depositions during the case; subpoena fees for acquiring records not in the possession of either party; business valuations being performed by experts, who charge for their expertise and testimony; using a forensic accountant to determine actual income where lifestyle and reported income do not match; other expert testimony such as psychological evaluations for custody fights.
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