A Plan That’s Right For You
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It is a hard fact that good legal help costs money. When the time comes for you to dissolve your marriage (get divorced), there’s a pretty good chance you haven’t stashed away $5,000 or more to plunk down on an attorney’s desk in in case your marriage didn’t work out. The same applies if you have never been married, but have had children, or get a notice in the mail one day that your ex is planning to move the kids to a different state, or if you find yourself in the position of having to take in a beloved child due to problems within your family.
So let’s go over payment methods, how they work, and the pros and cons of each.
Limited Scope Representation
This is a pay-as-go type of plan. For example, if all you have the money for is your initial filing or response, I can do that for you. Once the paperwork is filed, our contractual relationship is over until the next phase. Then for example, if you need an appearance, call me again, we talk about what needs to be done, and you pay me for the appearance. And on it goes until your matter is concluded.
The good part about limited scope is that you never get into debt with a lawyer. You pay what is required upfront and then you’re free to handle your matter the rest of the way after that if you want, or you can hire me again. More importantly, you get good legal advice, which is something that non-attorney legal services simply cannot provide, and they certainly aren’t allowed to show up in court and argue on your behalf.
On the other hand, limited scope doesn’t always mean cheap because some cases demand more time, research, and attention than others. For example, if your case requires a full-blown hearing with witnesses and evidence in front of a judge, it is going to cost some good money. Fortunately though, most family law cases will not come down to that.
Whether limited scope is right for your situation is something we can discuss when we speak. In many cases, it’s a great financial solution and definitely a superior alternative to trying to handle your case on your own.
Flat Fee Representation
The flat fee is the simplest method of paying for an attorney. You pay one price up front and I handle everything after that. This includes filing paperwork, making all appearances, and even going to trial if necessary. Note however, that costs are not included in the flat fee. For example, to file a petition for dissolution (divorce) most California courts charge $435. That means you would pay the flat fee plus the $435. Fortunately though, it is unlikely that you will end up racking up thousands of dollars in unforeseen court costs when a flat fee structure has been deemed appropriate in your case.
Whether a flat fee is right for you depends heavily on the facts of your case. Guardianships, move-away cases, certain types of divorces, and even some custody matters lend themselves well to flat fee structures. When you contact me, we can go over everything in detail to see what works for you.
First, there will always be a certain cost to you upfront. That’s because 1) filing fees exist, and 2) lawyers cost money. How much you will need to pay upfront will depend on what you need done. Generally, it can be anywhere from $500-$1500. Besides that, I have a certain set of criteria I use to decide whether or not a client is a good candidate for a payment plan. We just need to determine if you can make the payments, and if so, how much, how often, and for how long. There is a little more to it than that, but we can go over it in detail when we speak.
The Retainer and Hourly Method
This is the most traditional and most common way of paying for an attorney. You pay a certain amount of money upfront and then you are billed per hour of service. For a very basic example, say you pay a lawyer a $3,000 retainer and agree to pay a $300 hourly rate. This buys you 10 hours of the attorney’s time in advance. On the surface this sounds expensive, and well, it is. However, this is not unfair because some cases by their very nature are costly to undertake. Take the following hypothetical for example:
(Different Font) Harold and Wilma have been married for 20 years. During that time they have acquired several pieces of real estate, and even a vacation home in Colorado. They have also made various investments and Wilma works for a state university so she has a pension to look forward to. At the same time, Harold has his own business that he started right after the couple got married and Wilma thinks he's hiding money from the business. The couple also have had three children together, all of whom are under 18 years old. Sadly, there have been accusations of physical abuse made in this marriage.
The above hypothetical case is one that demands an hourly rate because there are so many thorny issues that will need to get worked out. Property division, child support, spousal support, long term marriage, considerable discovery due to self employment, and so forth are all in play. In other words, this divorce is going to take some time, a lot of work, and there is no realistic way to tell either party exactly what their attorney’s fees are going to end up being in advance. Therefore, a retainer agreement with an hourly fee charged against it is how this case needs to be handled. And woe to Harold or Wilma if they attempt to handle this situation without attorneys. Some things are worth money and an attorney who can handle the above described situation will earn every penny of it.
So as you can see, the retainer and hourly fee still has its place in the world of attorneys and clients, and your case may very well require such a fee structure. Or it may not. It's just going to depend on what your situation is.
These aren't the only available options for payment; there are more. The most important thing is that you receive a fair outcome. You cannot put a price on the time you have with your kids, nor can you assign a monetary value to the health and safety of a loved one. And always remember this: your own peace of mind is worth something too.