In my practice, a very low percentage of cases end up going to a contested trial. Why? Because more often than not, it simply does not make sense financially. It is rare in a divorce that the issues are so complex that a Judge needs to determine those issues and there is a tremendous cost in preparing a case for trial and ultimately trying it. Any individual can afford a divorce, if that individual and that individual’s spouse approach the prices reasonably, and reasonable lawyers are involved.
In the State of Illinois, a divorce lawyer may not charge a client on a contingent basis and therefore charges his or her client on an hourly basis. In Cook County, the more experienced divorce/family law attorneys will charge an hourly rate somewhere between $350 and $600 per hour. Whether your lawyer charges $350 or $600 per hour, if the case is contentious and the litigants fight over every issue and allow themselves to be guided by emotion, as opposed to sound legal advice, you are going to spend a lot of money. The advantage in hiring a larger divorce firm, such as Beermann Pritikin Mirabelli Swerdlove LLP, is that the firm employs talented associates and paralegals who bill at lesser hourly rates than the partners of the firm, which allows the client to receive high-end, experienced and compassionate counsel, at blended hourly rates, which helps keep costs lower.
There are alternatives to litigation, which in the long-run will also help save costs such as working collaboratively outside of litigation, use of mediators, particularly in custody-related issues, conducting settlement conferences with opposing attorneys and otherwise trying to negotiate a settlement as quickly as possible outside of Court. To aid in keeping the costs of litigation down, both litigants to a divorce should make full and open disclosure of all of the income, assets, liabilities and other financial aspects of the marriage and support those through proper documentation. Ultimately, the information is going to be discovered, one way or another, but refusing to provide all of the documents in an open manner, simply results in more attorney’s fees on both sides of the case. As a party in a divorce, you can help yourself by educating yourself in all of the income, assets and liabilities of the marriage, so that you do not have to rely on your lawyer to get all of that information for you. Both parties in the marriage should have a full working understanding, supported with documents, of all of the financial affairs and income of the marriage.
Finally, when entering into a divorce you should understand that there is a cost to doing business. While you have some individual control over costs, your spouse and your spouse’s attorney will in large part determine the cost of the divorce. To the extent you can approach the process in an amicable fashion and work collaboratively to get to a just result, the less money you will pay attorneys, and the more money you will have available to divide up between you and your spouse and/or help support your children. Getting a divorce should not mean liquidating your children’s college fund to pay your divorce attorney.