Divorce payment options

Hi, I’m Chris Schmiedeke, a family lawyer in Dallas, Texas.  Just heading back to the office from Ellis County, down in Waxahachie.  I was finalizing a divorce for a client got me thinking about different payment styles for divorces.  There is probably some confusion out there, so I thought I would make a quick video to clear that up.There are basically three options for divorce.  You can handle your own divorce, meaning you are your own attorney, and you can prepare your own forms and handle it that way.  The hard part is that you have to be able to find the forms and know how to type them. You can purchase forms, which is a flat fee arrangement, where you pay a certain dollar amount and the forms are either delivered to you and you fill them out yourself or you get assistance in filling them out.  The difference in the two would be the cost to prepare the forms.  If you fill them out yourself it is going to be pretty cheap.  If you are going to pay to have the forms filled out for you that is going to cost a little more money.  In either case you are still responsible to go to the courthouse to file it, finalize it and follow all the court procedures, etc.

The next step up is a flat fee divorce where the attorney fees are fixed.  The attorney will quote you a flat fee and there would be no fluctuation in that fee and that would get you divorced.  For instance you could pay an attorney five hundred dollars and that would get you divorced.  You wouldn’t pay anything more than that.   It gives the consumer some comfort to know that there are no hidden fees or costs.  The prices can range from a few hundred dollars up to a thousand dollars or higher.  What you are paying for is the level of service, however much service you want.  Do you want to speak with attorneys, do you want constant communication, or do you not need a lot of help and don’t care if you talk to anybody about it, you just want to get divorced.  I guess it depends on you and what you want to do.

The final piece is the more typical arrangement that most people are aware of which is the retainer agreement or hourly fee.  So the attorney would charge advanced fees, many times referred to as a retainer, that in reality is just advanced fees.  You pay that fee, for instance, of $1,500.  The attorney would bill out of that advanced fee at his or her hourly rate.  Their hourly rate could be $150 per hour or $300 per hour.  It is usually billed in tenths of an hour or quarter hour increments.  They bill out of that advanced fee.  When it is exhausted they expect you to either continue to pay bill on a monthly basis or put in another advanced fee.

Those are the options for attorney fees.  The forms divorce, the flat fee divorce where the attorney handles the case for you, makes the court appearances for you, or the advanced fee, retainer divorce, where the attorney bills hourly and also makes court appearances and handles the case for you.

The down side to the last option for the client is there is no idea what the toal cost is going to be.  It could be $1,500 dollars or it could be $15,000.  You do not know what the cost will be and so all the risk is put on the client.  In the flat fee divorce the risk is put on the attorney.  It encourages efficiency in the attorney to get the job done in a timely and cost efficient manner.  It puts the burden on the attorney and takes it off the client.

A drawback to the forms or DIY divorce is that you have to do it all yourself.  You have to make court appearances, and you have to know what you are doing.  I have been to court many a times and seen somebody trying to do the divorce themselves and they get up to the judge, the judge hears the evidence, they look at the paperwork provided to them, the divorce decree, and the judge tells them “I am sorry I cannot sign this, there is an error in the decree.  I can’t tell you what that error is, you have to go fix it.” The person is standing there looking at the judge thinking, “well how am I supposed to know what to fix if you can’t tell me.”  But the judge can’t tell you,  they can’t give you legal advise.  So that poor person now has to go out and take another day off work, figure out what’s wrong, fix it, come back and do it again.  Do the math, if you have to take off a day here or there, or two days or three days to get all this done, what is the cost of that?  Ultimately you might end up paying more in lost wages and vacation time than if you paid the attorney to do the flat fee divorce for you in the first place.

You have to weigh all those yourself.  You determine the cost and what’s most beneficial to you and go from there.