What Will This Cost?
At the end of almost every consultation, the question is the same: “What is this going to cost me?” Under our old billing structure, this was never an easy question to answer; I always found myself saying something silly like, “somewhere between $5,000 and $50,000.” In part I was kidding; in part I truly did not know. After reviewing years’ worth of cases and invoices, we have created a unique billing system that allows you more control over the process and more certainty over your divorce and custody lawyer’s cost. We’ve broken down family law cases into various categories. While there will always be a few cases that don’t fit the mold of any of the following categories, in our experiences those cases are rare.
First, cases fall into three broad categories:
- Multiple-issue matters arising from an initial separation or divorce. These cases often include claims for spousal and child support, child custody and property distribution, and are being addressed and resolved for the first time. We refer to these cases broadly as “Divorce Cases.” The fee structure for these cases is set out here.
- Child custody and child support matters between non-married parents or newly separated parents who don’t have the other financial claims. We refer to these matters as “Children Cases.” The fee structure for these limited issue matters is set out here.
- Enforcement or modification cases where an order or agreement is already in place and you need help enforcing it or getting it changed. We refer to these as “Second Act Cases.” The fee structure for these matters is set out here.
Sometimes, fingers crossed, you are able to agree to the terms related to any of these issues and you only need an attorney to draft your settlement documents. We are happy to draft anything you need and our fees for those services are set out in our Limited Services Menu.
- Resolved by Agreement (Amicable Divorce): Most cases will be resolved by an agreement reached between you and your spouse. This agreement may come at various stages in the process; often an agreement is reached without the need for litigation and without court involvement.
- Litigated Cases (Contested Divorce): In these cases, circumstances and/or personalities prevent an amicable agreement and require some court intervention. Even in a contested case, an agreement will be reached at some stage of the process 90% of the time. Unfortunately, sometimes that is the day of trial.
- High Conflict and/or Complex Asset (Complex Divorce): These cases are rare. In a high-conflict case, the battle lines have been drawn early and it’s obvious from the beginning that everything will be a fight. Sometimes this heightened level of conflict is necessary because of significant marital misconduct or deception as it relates to assets. In these cases, it’s very difficult to anticipate the costs and attorney fees. If your case falls within this category, we’ll craft a fee schedule to better address the possible events and workload involved.
Under our Fixed-Fee Structure, we treat each of these categories separately.
Initial Consultation: $250
Fee: $2,500 (w/o Mediation)
+ $2,500 to attend Mediation
The fixed fee for an amicable divorce includes all steps that are necessary to resolve your case by agreement and without court involvement. This will include the drafting of a separation agreement, preparation of any deeds or other documents necessary to transfer title of an asset (other than a QDRO to transfer retirement assets — see “Final Steps” section). The fixed fee also includes all contact between you and Church Watson (including e-mails and phone calls) and for any and all negotiations with your spouse or their attorney.
If mediation is necessary to reach an agreement, there will be an additional fixed fee of $2,500 that will be due no later than 10 days prior to the scheduled mediation. This doesn’t include any portion of the mediator’s fee that you may be responsible for.
Initial Consultation: $250
A contested case can take many forms and some require more court involvement than others. Most cases that are initially contested will eventually be resolved by agreement, although the stage of the process where the agreement is reached varies greatly. Because of these variances, we’ve divided the contested divorce fee into several stages (to see a breakdown of the fees and events click here). Depending on the complexity of your case and the actions and court events required, the fixed fee ranges from $5,000 to $45,000. OK, breathe … We know $45,000 is a lot of money for nearly all of our clients but remember that almost no case involves all of the court events included in the cost. Even if your case does, with our fixed fee structure, you’ll always know what the next step will cost you so you can better evaluate any settlement or potential out-of-court resolutions.
Initial Consultation: $250
A number of factors – including the personality of the opposing party, the lawyer representing the opposing party and the nature of the assets – make Complex Divorces more expensive. Typically, more discovery is needed to be sure we know everything we need to know to reach the best outcome for you and more court appearances are required to force people to do what they need to. The specific twists and turns you will face are difficult to anticipate and quantify early on in a Complex Case, making it impossible to quote you an exact fee at the beginning of the case. However, we’ll provide you with a road map of what the worst-case scenario looks like and what each step along the way will cost you. While it won’t be exactly the fee structure for a Contested Divorce case, reviewing the structure set out here will give you a good idea of how we approach billing and what various stages might cost.
- Child Custody: For cases involving only the issue of custody, our fixed fee ranges from $3,000 to $10,000. We’ll discuss the variables of your specific case and set this fee at our initial consultation. The fee, like our other fees, is a one-time fee paid at the initiation of the action.
- Child Support: For cases involving only the issue of Child Support, our fee is $2,500 for a North Carolina Guidelines case (most are) and $5,500 for a non-guideline case. See the Child Support section for more information on the Guidelines and how they work.
- When the issue of Child Custody and Child Support are combined, the fee ranges from $5,000 to $12,500.
- Motion to Modify Custody: The fee here mimics the fee for a Custody Case because in many ways a modification is a second custody case involving much of the same preparation and time. Our fee ranges from $3,000 to $10,000. We will discuss the variables of your specific case and set this fee at our initial consultation. The fee, like our other fees, is a one-time fee paid at the initiation of the action.
- Motion to Modify Child Support: For cases involving only the issue of Modification of Child Support, our fee is $2,500 for a Child Support Guidelines case (most are) and $5,500 for a non-guideline case. See the Child Support section for more information on the guidelines and how they work.
- When these issues are combined, the fee ranges from $5,000 to $12,500.
- Motion for Contempt: If we are filing a Motion for Contempt, the fee is $2,500. If we are defending a Motion for Contempt, the fee is $1,500.
Our customized legal services menu falls into several categories of unbundled legal services. Those categories include:
If you have one question or a hundred, we’re here to help counsel you and work on a plan to navigate the divorce process. Our coaching services are provided on an hourly basis at the rate of $250 an hour. We can be available at a time that’s convenient to you and can meet in person, chat via e-mail or teleconference – whatever you feel is best.
If you’ve chosen to represent yourself in court, we can work with you to be sure you have any important case law or statutes to hand your Judge during your hearing. Sometimes, having just the right case to show the Court makes all the difference. Our experience allows us to find the most applicable cases quickly and efficiently. Our legal research services are provided on an hourly basis at $250 an hour.
Assisting with Discovering Information or Responding to Discovery Requests
There may be information you need from banks, health-care providers or schools to proceed in your case. We can work with you to be sure this information is properly obtained so that you can use it in Court if that is necessary. We can also assist you in sending information requests to your spouse or in answering those you have received. These services are provided on a flat-fee basis that is negotiated and set before we start work. The fees for this work typically range from $500 to $1,500.
Hopefully you and your spouse can resolve matters quickly and amicably. If you are negotiating with them directly and just need some reassurance that you’re headed the right direction, our coaching services would be a perfect fit. Our coaching services are provided on an hourly basis at $250 an hour.
Most family law cases are now required to go through an Alternate Dispute Resolution process (or Mediation). Mediation is required in all child custody cases and equitable distribution cases. Whether it’s mandatory or not, mediation is often the best way to resolve your case. We can coach you through the best way to approach mediation and help you define your goals and strategies. Of course, if you want us by your side during mediation, we will be there. Having an attorney with you for the mediation may be the best money you could spend – 90% of the time, cases are resolved during the process. If you just need some coaching prior to mediation, our fee would be billed hourly at $250 an hour. If you want us to be a part of the entire process, we will set a fixed fee with you beforehand; typically that fee is $5,000.
Drafting of Legal Documents
Whether you need a Prenuptial Agreement, Separation Agreement or a pleading to be filed with the Court, it’s crucial that the documents be accurate. In our practice we spend a lot of time fixing mistakes that were created by bad documents that people drafted themselves. We can work with you to be sure that the documents you’re using meet both your short-term needs and long-term goals. If you’re involved in litigation, we can work with you to be sure the pleadings you are filing are accurate and present the information you need to the court in the best way. Our drafting services are provided on a flat-fee basis that is set based on the document needed. For example, a typical fee for a Prenuptial Agreement is $1,500 and $2,500 for a Separation Agreement.
If you’re navigating the court system on your own and you have decided that you want an experienced advocate next to you during your hearing, we’re here to help. We have tried hundreds of cases involving a range of issues and we’re ready to hop in and help. Appearing in court alone can be a truly scary and risky decision, especially when so much can be at stake; let us stand beside you. We will work with you to set a fixed fee for our services prior to your scheduled court date. You will have the comfort of knowing you’re not alone without the unknown costs.
Parenting Coordinator Services
We can provide support as a parenting coordinator, an impartial third party that works with parents to make transitioning to the restructured family easier on everyone involved. Regardless of the level of conflict in your case; we will be an impartial neutral to help guide you and your spouse through the child custody process and will help you both remain focused on your primary goal: the happiness and well-being of your children. Our parenting coordinator services are provided on an hourly basis at $250 an hour.