Of course, the cost of a divorce, particularly the amount of fees paid to your lawyer, can affect your divorce. Divorce lawyers, like many other professionals, charge different fees for a different ranges of services. Illinois divorce law does give the court discretion to order a spouse to contribute to the other spouse’s lawyer’s fees.
Do lawyers charge on an hourly (time) basis for divorce and representation?
Yes. Your lawyer should keep track of the time spent on your case and give you itemized billings.
Will a lawyer represent a client on a set fee basis?
Seldom. This is because there are so many unpredictable things that may happen in a divorce. I suppose if someone came to me with a thoroughly thought out and discussed agreement between the spouses, and its provisions were reasonable, a flat fee could be quoted, but this virtually never happens.
What is the range of fees charged by lawyers in McHenry County?
The norm is between $300 and $450 per hour. The high end is higher in large urban areas like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Some lawyers charge a higher hourly fee for court room work than for office work.
On what do lawyers base hourly rates?
Experience, reputation and ability are the main factors. A lawyer may also charge a higher hourly rate than usual for a very difficult case.
What is a retainer fee?
Essentially it is a down payment. It usually serves as a credit against future services and when the retainer is exhausted by court costs and services, the client is billed. Some lawyers also employ an “end retainer” in which all, or part of the retainer fee is applied to the last services rendered, rather than the first. For example, if $4,000 is the retainer, $2,000 may be applied to the first services rendered and the remaining $2,000 might be credited against the last billing, and if there is a credit balance, it will be refunded to the client at the end of the case.
May I be ordered to pay my spouse’s fees?
Yes. One party may apply against the other, during the pendency of the proceedings, for “interim” fees. Yet for you to be required to pay your spouse’s interim fees, there is a requirement that your spouse not have the ability to pay fees. There is also the possibility of a fee award at the conclusion of the case. This is called a contribution award.
Why may I be required to help finance my spouse’s attorney fees?
To give each side an equal financial ability to pay for a lawyer, Illinois enacted a law called the “Leveling the Playing Field.” The goal of this law is s to put the parties in parity for the payment of fees. For example, if you paid your attorney a retainer of $3,000 and your spouse files a petition for interim attorney fees, you will have to reveal the $3,000 retainer you paid. You might have to pay your spouse’s attorney an amount as will equalize the payment of fees—if your spouse does not the financial resources to pay for her own fees.
How are final, or “contribution” fees determined?
These fees are determined after the case is concluded by the court. The judge, in making a fee award, is to consider the same factors as are to be considered in the distribution of property and in the award of maintenance (if there is a maintenance award). Yet a recent Illinois Supreme Court case held that fee awards still depend on a showing of the inability by one spouse to pay fees and the ability of the other spouse to pay.
For a detailed discussion of these issues, see the detailed article by the Gitlin Law Firm.