Doesn't my spouse have to pay my fees?
The answer varies according to state law and the
judge assigned to your case, but in general, unless your spouse
is wealthy and you have limited assets available to you, you
should not hire a lawyer assuming your spouse will be
responsible for your fees. Even if your spouse can afford to do
so, a judge may decide your lawyer "over litigated" the case,
and not award her all the fees she seeks from your spouse. The
lawyer may still look to you for the balance due.
If the lawyer is willing to look only to your spouse for fees,
be sure that is stated in the retainer agreement and that you
will not be responsible for the difference between the lawyer's
fees and what she actually collects from your spouse.
Won't the lawyer wait until the case is over to be paid?
Few lawyers are willing to wait until a case is over to be paid,
but, depending on your circumstances, you may find one who will.
This should be set out in the retainer agreement.
What if I pay a retainer and then change my mind?
A reputable attorney will return the retainer to you, deducting
any charges already incurred, such as the time spent on the
If the lawyer refuses to return the unused balance of the funds,
contact your local bar association to find out your remedies.
How much could a retainer be?
The amount of a retainer can vary depending on where you live,
the lawyer you hire and the status of your case. For example, a
person living in Manhattan retaining an attorney to take over a
litigated custody case may pay as much as $25,000. In a small
community, the fee could be much less. There should be a
correlation between the amount of work needed to be done in the
case, the lawyer's years of experience, the relief you seek and
the retainer fee.
Do all lawyers charge retainers?
Most do. Some may be willing to bill you on a monthly basis.
Contingency fees, where the lawyer takes a percentage of what
you receive in the case, are generally considered unethical in
matrimonial cases because the lawyer should not have an economic
interest in the outcome of the case. Be wary of any lawyer who
offers to represent you for a percentage of what you receive
from your spouse.
If lawyers bill by the amount of hours they work, isn't it to
their advantage to drag the case out for as long as possible?
Reputable attorneys will not "churn" a case--ie, drag it out so
as to generate fees. However, you can ask, when you receive the
written retainer agreement, that the attorney include a
provision stating that, except in the case of an emergency, he
will consult with you before taking steps in the case, and will
use his best efforts to give you an estimate of the amount of
time taking such steps will cost. That way, you will have an
idea of what the planned course of action will cost.