Understanding the Divorce Lawyer's Fees

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Before You Put Your Money Down

Divorce Dictionary

A retainer agreement is a contract signed by an attorney and client setting forth the billing arrangement to be instituted between the lawyer and the client.

One of the most important things to understand as you enter a financial relationship with your matrimonial attorney is the retainer. If you do pay one, the first thing you will do is sign a retainer agreement. Remember, any agreement regarding your retainer must be in writing and should always provide for a refund if the fees are not used up.

The agreement should also stipulate what happens when the retainer is used up. Will you have to pay another lump sum, or will you be billed on a monthly or weekly basis? When it comes to your retainer, make sure that all the ground rules are spelled out first.

A reputable attorney will not only have no problem putting the retainer agreement in writing, but also will ask you to take the agreement home and study it before signing it. You should be invited to call and ask any questions you have. As eager as you might be to sign the retainer and write out a check, hold back until you read the agreement and thoroughly understand what it says.

The Fine Print

At a minimum, your retainer agreement should establish the amount of money you are paying up front and should stipulate hourly rates for the lawyer as well as others who might be assisting in your case, including paralegals and junior attorneys.

The agreement should also outline how you will pay for out-of-pocket expenses such as photocopying, process servers, stenographers, or court fees. Maybe those expenses will come out of your retainer, or maybe you'll have to pay them in addition to your retainer. Find out now.

Red Alert

Never sign any agreement in which you use your house as collateral.

A retainer agreement should explain how often you will be billed. Are you going to get a bill only when the retainer is used up, or will you be kept informed with a bill each month as the retainer dwindles?

What happens if you do not pay your bill? Does the lawyer have an automatic right to abandon your case? Does he or she have an obligation to work out a payment plan with you? Are you obligated to guarantee payment with collateral, such as your house? Watch out for any lawyer who demands security in the form of something you cannot afford to lose.

Usually, you will be asked to countersign the retainer and send it back to the lawyer with the retainer check.

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