No one wants their separation or divorce to financially devastate their family or pay more legal fees than necessary. At Moe Hannah, it is our goal to resolve family disputes in a cost efficient way. Learn more about what to expect in legal costs and how to control them below.
Moe Hannah family lawyers, like almost all family lawyers, charge clients at an hourly rate (usually in increments of a tenth of an hour) or by blocks of work (e.g., a divorce, a separation agreement, a court application, a consult).
Hourly rates depend on various factors but most commonly on the lawyer’s years of practice and experience. Moe Hannah lawyers understand what it feels like to have to trust that the person they are paying is not overbilling or charging for unnecessary work.
The following is our best explanation of how work is charged and what you can do to limit your legal costs.
Hourly Rate: $250-650/HOUR + GST
The work for which a client is charged is all work necessary to accomplish the client’s goals, such as meetings with the lawyer, phone calls or emails to and from the lawyer, correspondence between the two lawyers involved, attendance at a mediation, court or arbitration, preparation time, analyzing financial information, legal research, etc.
Some Moe Hannah lawyers offer block billing in order to give the client a greater degree of control over their cost. This will fit especially well where the lawyer is not required to assist the client in negotiating a settlement or to advocate for them in court.
In some cases clients have attended mediation or some other dispute resolution process and already have addressed their issues before retaining their lawyer. In these cases, the client will typically pay for a review and advice on the tentative settlement reached, the drafting of the agreement and completing the divorce at a fixed price. In most other cases, the work charged starts with an initial consultation and continues until the work is completed.
The process usually starts with a case assessment, that is, a first meeting between the lawyer and the client to review their circumstances, needs and interests. The lawyer will give wide ranging advice and legal information about how the entire process works, the client’s legal rights and obligations, applicable legal principles (e.g., law on parenting, support and property issues), their options and possible next steps.
The Case Assessment takes from from 45 minutes to two or three hours depending on how complex the situation is and how many questions the client has. The Case Assessment is either charged on a flat fee basis or on the lawyer’s hourly rate.
Many clients find this the most valuable legal service they receive since it gives them a good view of the big picture, their options, what the process looks like and how they can keep things on a productive, non-adversarial track. Non-lawyer services – divorce coaches, mediators, divorce negotiators, etc. – cannot provide you with legal advice.
Moe Hannah LLP is a family law firm in more than just the kind of law practiced. Almost all of the lawyers have children and are committed to their families. This usually means that there is a limit to the number of hours a day, week or month we are prepared to work.
While most lawyers are at the office approximately nine hours a day, a normal billing day is four to six hours because there is always time spent doing work this is not billed. And we are busy. Spending more time on one file means less time available to spend on the next file. There is no increase in overall revenue for the lawyer achieved by spending more time than needed on a given client’s case.
The more important objective for Moe Hannah lawyers is that clients are happy with the work we do. Happy clients refer other clients. Unhappy ones don’t.
Total legal costs from the beginning to the end can range from a low of payment for the consultation only to tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars if litigation is involved or issues are particularly complex and asset values or incomes very high.
If there can be said to be an “average cost”, it would involve payment of fees for the consultation, instructions and information gathering, questions from client and answers, settlement meetings (possibly mediation), correspondence between lawyers, the drafting of a separation agreement and the completion of any required consent court orders, including the divorce.
A case involving the above typically means legal fees from $8,000 to $40,000. Block fee cases where the lawyer’s role is limited can be less. Where there are few settlement meetings, less complex matters and clients see things very similarly, the cost will be at the lower end of the range and sometimes below it.
Where there are fewer legal services required, issues are less complex or the parties view issues similarly, costs may be substantially reduced, perhaps to $3,000 to $8,000. As we hope is clear, legal fees are very dependent on the complexity of the issues and the cooperativeness of both parties; a Case Assessment is really required to give any sort of meaningful estimate of fees for your divorce.
Where matters are more complex, more meetings are required and conflict is higher, cost will be at the higher end of the range.
Where matters require litigation or arbitration, or several mediation sessions, cost may move well above this range but your lawyer should be able, once familiar with your case, to give you a better cost estimate based on the expected phases of the litigation.
In some instances it is necessary to retain an expert, such as a psychologist to give advice about children and parenting arrangements, or accountants to give tax and other financial advice.
Other costs include court costs to file documents (e.g., filing a Statement of Claim, retaining a process server to personal serve the spouse with legal documents, appraisals of houses, business valuations, etc.). In most cases disbursements are not significant.
Every client fears escalating and out-of-control legal costs. Be skeptical of anyone who promises that your divorce will be inexpensive. This is because no one can know exactly how the negotiation will unfold, whether it will be successful, and if not, how many court applications and litigation steps will be required.
But the good news is that the client has a lot of control over the cost. If the spouses work with, rather than against, each other they have even more control. We typically bill each month for the work done that month rather than on the basis of stages in the process.
This allows clients to be updated regularly on what they are being charged.
For the most part, the client can put the brakes on the process and instruct the lawyer to cease working, or to complete some work, but not other.
Traditional cash retainers are no longer the only option. Most Moe Hannah clients pay their monthly accounts by credit card and provide our office with a credit card authorization in order to facilitate that payments, others have a combination of retainer and credit card payments.
Clients may also pay by cash (not common), debit or, in some cases by cheque, but this is usually done on a retainer basis.