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What to Expect in Attorney Fees and Costs in Divorce in Massachusetts

How much does a Divorce Cost in Massachusetts?

We are asked the question, “How much will my divorce cost” by our clients all the time.  The question is difficult to answer to the large number of “unknowns” for every case.  For example:

  • It is almost always unknown how cooperative or uncooperative an opposing party will be.
  • It is unknown how cooperative or uncooperative an opposing counsel will be in a particular case.
  • It is unknown what discovery will need to be done.
  • It is unknown what information the other side will try and hide.
  • It is unknown exactly how complex a case will be until it starts.

Because there are so many variables to the cost of a case, we often advise our clients that there is a broad range for the cost of any particular divorce.  Often, the cost is not dependent on our client or our firm, but rather how difficult or cooperative the other side will be.

The cost of a divorce case also depends on the type of divorce case that you have.  For example, if you have an “uncontested” divorce (under Chapter 208, Section 1A), the cost of your divorce will be somewhere between $220 (the approximately filing fee cost, assuming you don’t have attorneys) and $5,000.  Typically, our firm can complete a relatively simple “1A” divorce between $3,500 and $5,000.  Of course, even an uncontested case could cost well over $5,000.

For cases that start out contested, the cost depends on the following:

  • The number of hearings involved.  The more hearings your attorney has to prepare for and attend, the higher the cost.
  • The amount of discovery involved.  If our clients are not being provided the proper (and full) information in a divorce case, we will often initiate discovery to obtain valuable information.  There are a variety of ways to collect information through discovery.  For our very detailed guide to discovery in divorce, click here.
  • The amount of “petty” communications by the other side.  Often during divorce, attorneys will send correspondence and call the opposing counsel to discuss something that the other side wants them to talk about, even though it may be unimportant to the case.  Most good attorneys do not engage in this behavior, but it does occur.
  • The amount of time that passes before the parties reach an agreement.  The longer a case is pending, the more costly it will be due to the ongoing activities of all cases.  Hearings are set, counsel talk with each other about the case, settlement discussions are sent back and forth, and so on.  The quicker an agreement is reached, the less costly the divorce will be for both sides.

For contested cases, the average cost of divorce will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $7,500 – $20,000.  This figure is based on decades of experience with divorce litigation.  We most often see cases start out “hot” with lots of work, high tempers and emotions driving decisions.  As cases wear on, parties realize that it is better to resolve disputes rather than spend money on lawyers and allowing a judge that is completely unfamiliar with your family make the most important decisions imaginable.

Some contested cases will cost much less than $7,500, and some cases will cost much more than $20,000.  Again, the factors described above will have a huge impact on the total cost at the end of the day.

What is the ideal Philosophy for a Divorce Lawyer to Keep Costs to a Minimum?

We believe that our firm’s mission is the best way to practice family law, which is that we strive to resolve all cases through cooperation, disclosure and settlement to keep costs as low as possible.  However, we are very experienced litigators and will not back down “just to settle”.  Ultimately, we have an idea of what the likely outcome of a case will be and will advise our clients accordingly.

The Cost of Divorce may vary based upon Residence

There are attorneys that specialize in family law across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in almost all cities and towns.  Where you live and where your attorney works from may have an impact on the cost of divorce.

For example, if you live in affluent areas such as Wellesley, Dover, Newton, Brookline and other areas where there is a high per capita income, you can expect that the retainer quote you get from an attorney practicing in those areas to be higher than in other areas.  This usually makes sense because with more income and assets parties have, the more complex the case might be and the more spouses have to “fight” over.

Almost all attorneys charge for travel time as well.  While we try and keep travel time to a minimum, it is important to recognize this cost.  Since we have multiple offices in Massachusetts, we charge for travel time from the office nearest to the court for a particular case.

Make sure your Attorney’s Required Retainer Deposit is Refundable

For divorce cases, our firm requires a retainer deposit that largely depends on the anticipated initial work and complexity of a case.  Our divorce retainer deposits are refundable to the extent they are not used.  Some attorneys require a “non-refundable” retainer deposit, which we do not think is appropriate.

How can I reduce the Cost of my Divorce in Massachusetts?

We have come up with a variety of ways over decades of practicing family law to help parties going through divorce keep their costs as low as possible.  This guide will help you reduce your divorce costs:

  • When preparing to meet with your attorney, write down your list of questions in advance.  This will make for a shorter meeting.
  • When emailing with your attorney, try to consolidate emails.  For example, rather than sending 10 separate emails about various issues, try and consolidate those emails.
  • Review all the documents and correspondence sent by your attorney promptly.  This prevents multiple attempts by your attorney to get hold of you.
  • Make sure your attorney actually sends you copies of every document relating to your divorce case and keep an organized file.
  • If you can communicate with your spouse, try and resolve as many issues as possible without attorneys.
  • Stay organized.  The quicker you can provide a document or information to your attorney the better.
  • Communicate often.  While it sounds counter-intuitive, keeping an open dialogue with your attorney will actually reduce the cost of your divorce.  By maintaining regular communication, you can ensure that your case is “moving forward” to resolution rather than sitting stagnant.  The quicker the case is done, the quicker you not have to incur divorce attorney fees and costs.

Are Attorney Fees and Costs Ordered in Massachusetts Divorce Cases?

Attorney fees and costs vary depending on the scope of services involved in a case, the complexity of the case, and the experience level of the attorney representing the party.  In cases where there is plenty of cooperation, the fees are almost always much less than in cases where there is little or no cooperation.

Our firm represents many clients in different ways.  We provide simple hourly consulting services, where we can provide legal advice to clients to help them navigate through their case at their direction, we provide services where we assist with paperwork (drafting and filing), and we provide full-service representation.  The required deposits varies depending on which scope of service the client needs and the amount of work that will be likely to bring the case to conclusion.

Attorney fees can be ordered by the court.  In divorce cases, the court will order payment of attorney fees based on several statutes that authorize such awards.  The court can order fees paid during a case to cover the upcoming expenses of a case, or at the end of a case.  The court can also order attorneys fees payable by one party in annulment, separate support actions, abuse prevention cases, contempt, child custody and visitation matters, and as a sanction in any probate case.

Application for an award of attorney fees and costs should be done carefully by an experienced lawyer.  The application should set forth the grounds for the award, including discussion of any of the following factors:

  • The relative need of the applicant for legal services in connection to the family law (domestic) case.
  • The complexity and uniqueness of the work done by counsel for the party seeking fees, including handling the difficulties of a particular case.
  • The difficulties caused by one party in prolonging a case.
  • The successes achieved by the attorney for the applicant.
  • The reduced economic means that the applicant has compared to the other party.
  • The experience, knowledge, and reputation of the lawyer.

For more information about attorney fees and costs in Boston or New Bedford divorce, separate support and annulment cases, contact us today.

Our firm serves all courts in Suffolk County and Bristol County, including the Boston, New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton courthouses.  We have offices in both Boston and New Bedford.

We also service the Middlesex County Family and Probate Court, the Norfolk County courts, Plymouth County courts, and Essex County courts.  We have successfully litigated (and settled) matters in all of these counties.

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