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How Can I Afford My Attorney Fees?

Posted by Jenny R. Stevens | Aug 29, 2018 | 1 Comment

divorce and attorney fees
Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon,

No matter your financial circumstances, divorce is not one of those things that people "save up" for in life. Most couples start a Christmas or a Vacation fund together but rarely do they start a Divorce fund together. When divorce papers come out of the blue for one of the parties, as is the case in many divorces we see, your financial stress levels can skyrocket as you try to figure out how to afford a retainer for your attorney, and then also keep up with monthly bills from your attorney and other professionals you may have to pay throughout the process.

The common misconception in society is that when you file for divorce, or when your attorney files an Answer to a divorce complaint filed by your spouse, you will ask the Court to have the other side pay for your attorney fees. While that is certainly one of the requests that your attorney will (and should!) request of the Court, that request will not guarantee you will receive an Order requiring him or her to do so. More than likely, the judge at the Temporary Hearing will hold that request "in abeyance" until the Final Hearing. That means that everyone must pay their own attorneys through the case until the Final Hearing or Trial is held, at which time the attorneys will both present arguments to the Court to persuade the Judge why attorney fees should be paid by one party or the other. 

Given that most divorce cases last between 10 and 18 months on average, you need another plan for managing the expenses and keeping current on the bills. If you don't have liquid assets on hand to cover the expenses (i.e., cash), here a few of the most common ways divorce clients are able to pay for their attorney fees and other expenses related to the divorce:

Borrow Money from Family Members

No one likes to borrow money from their family members, but the undeniable fact in family court is that sometimes it's the only way to get out of a bad situation and have it handled in a way that will protect your (and your children's) future/best interests. When you're going through a divorce, especially when there is already financial stress, strain, or problems in the marriage, it may be difficult to come up with the funds to retain an attorney, much less have him represent you throughout the case. Talk to your parents, grandparents, or other concerned relatives who may have more financial security than you do at the moment and who also want to see you well represented. The loan they make with you can be reduced to writing with a simple promissory note that the Court will take into consideration when deciding all financial aspects of the case. These types of loans are also preferable considering most family members won't charge you interest rates like a bank or your retirement fund may do if you secure a loan from them.

Get a Personal Loan

Many banks will offer you personal loans which can be used to pay litigation costs. However, discuss this option with your attorney before doing so as there may be negative consequences on your case for doing so. Don't use any marital property as collateral without explicit knowledge and consent of the opposing side. If the marital home is one of the assets being divided by the Court, the judge won't take kindly to the fact that you've reduced its value after the divorce has started without telling the other side about it. 

Use Credit Cards

Like other forms of debt, you need to make sure you're using funds that aren't marital resources without notification and documentation to the other side. These debts will likely be attributed only to you in the equitable division of assets and debts unless the Court rules that your spouse will be responsible for a portion of them at the end of the case. Shop around for the best interest rates if you choose to use credit cards to pay your bills and work hard to pay them down as quickly as possible. 

How to Reduce the Costs of Your Divorce Case

In many cases, you have a good deal of control over how much the whole case will cost. However, in order to save money, you have to be able to put the past behind you and focus on building (and saving) for a better, more financially stable future. Here are a few tips our clients have found most helpful over the years:

  • Don't use your divorce as "payback": Regardless of who is more at fault in the marriage, using your divorce case as a chance to "sock it to" you ex-spouse is an expensive venture. It may be fun to daydream about your attorney deposing your ex under oath in a tiny conference room with the heat turned up, but paying your attorney to schedule, prepare for, and conduct that deposition will come with a hefty price tag. And you'll have to pay the court reporter, too. Also, keep things in perspective when fighting over things like personal property. Your ex may deserve for you to be the one who ends up with his true love - the 80" flat screen TV he can't live without - but once you pay your attorney to fight over it, you could've bought yourself a brand new one just like it. Reserve your attorney fees for things that matter - the kids, the house, and your fair share of other assets that will pay off in the future.  
  • Use the mediation process for all contested issues: Even if your mediation session needs to be scheduled for all day, it will still be cheaper than a trial on the same issues. Mediation also gives you and the other party a lot more control over the outcome you can both live with than a trial will offer. Most mediators charge between $150-$250/hour, but that fee is typically split between the parties. The money you'll save by resolving the case at mediation means more financial resources at the end of the case to start your new life.
  • Hire a qualified therapist or life coach to get you through the divorce process: Your attorney and his staff have seen and heard it all. They are good at their jobs because they are great listeners and supportive of their clients. However, they are not trained therapists and using them as your outlet for your feelings of sadness, frustrations, worry, guilt, etc. while going through the divorce process will quickly increase your bill many folds. If you aren't familiar with any therapists or life coaches who specialize in working with those going through a divorce, ask your attorney for a trusted referral. While this may seem like spending more money rather than saving money, in the long run, the savings will be apparent. Most attorneys charge anywhere from $200-$600 an hour. Many therapists charge a fraction of that - some as low as $75 or $100 an hour, and many are covered by insurance, reducing the costs even more. 

While no one expects to have to pay for divorce in their lifetime, and it's certainly not an expense many enjoy paying, if you find yourself in need of hiring an attorney to represent you, follow the advice above to help manage the financial strain to best of your ability in order to keep your future and your children's future safe and secure.

The Stevens Firm, P.A. - Family Law Center has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over two decades, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and divorce. We are well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact us at (864) 598-9172 to schedule an initial consultation.

About the Author

Jenny R. Stevens

Managing Partner


Elizabeth Hight Reply

Posted Nov 28, 2018 at 12:17:01

I love this article, Jenny. Especially the part about hiring a therapist or life coach.

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