HOW MUCH IS THIS GOING TO COST ME?
Lawyer's fees are high. The right attorney by your side can make or break your case, and make or break your budget. I have seen attorneys blaze through their client's retainer in the beginning of a case, leaving the client with no results and without the funds to finalize their case. Avoid greediness. A responsible attorney is transparent in their billing, and frank with you about setting expectations for your case and budget.
Since lawyers are paid for their time, the more you and your ex can agree on issues ahead of time, the lower your attorney fees. The more arguing and contentious issues are, the more time is spent and the more money attorneys earn from your fees. Family law attorneys profit from your arguing and inability to get along.
The cost of a family law matter is directly proportional to the level of contention and fighting. When a case is contested, every issue becomes a battlefield. Lawyers spend their time writing letters, investigating and responding to discovery requests, drafting motions, and going to court.
Costs increase the longer a case drags on. An attorney who can move the case forward and finish the case quickly reduces your legal fees and adds value to your bottom line.
If you hire me, you will be asked to pay a retainer and sign a fee contract called the Retainer Agreement. My hourly rate is $270 and is drawn down from that retainer. The retainer is determined by how simple or complex the case, and the level of contention or agreement.
You will receive a detailed billing statement of the work done on your case. If and when the retainer is close to depletion, I will request that you replenish your account. This usually occurs when the case has become more time consuming than initially anticipated.
I will seek for the opposing party to reimburse you for your attorney fees when appropriate. If you and your partner both earn income, you're likely to share the legal costs and the higher earning party will probably contribute to the other's legal fees. Who pays the attorney fees is always an issue for discussion, and may be resolved by mediation or court ruling.
Not everyone can afford the luxury of hiring an attorney. In those circumstances, I offer limited assistance for one-time court appearances, depositions, and mediations. If you're not ready to file a court case, I also offer consulting services while we prepare your options and negotiate interim co-parenting and financial agreements.
I will be direct and forthcoming with you about your legal fees and anticipated costs. I will work very hard to minimize your costs so that you spend as little as possible, while gaining as much as possible.
HOW SHOULD I CHOOSE MY WASHINGTON FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY?
Once you let others know that you're contemplating a split, expect advice from friends and co-workers about advice and recommendations for lawyers. Be mindful that every divorce is different. Your end goals from the process may be different than those of a friend of a friend or the guy you just met at the gas station.
It is no longer necessary that your attorney's office be located near your geographic area. Legal pleadings are electronically filed with the court, and most parties sign documents via electronic signature or scanning documents. Keep in mind that if your case is going to court, your attorney likely charges you for the time spent driving or traveling. If you anticipate numerous court hearings, you may end up paying for hours of your attorney's travel time.
Once you choose a few attorneys to meet, it is ideal to meet attorneys in-person for the initial consultation. Gauge the chemistry and see if you click. You need to be comfortable talking to her as you are telling her intimate details of your life- is she trustworthy? Does she answer your questions, or is she condescending and dismissive? Are you comfortable asking the lawyer questions? Is she listening to your concerns? Does she understand your needs? Is she giving you strategy? Does the lawyer handle matters herself or hand it off to someone else? Does she make court appearances? How many of her cases go to court and how many settle? Does she have time in her schedule to give your case the attention it deserves? Drill down on these issues, and go with your gut.
The best thing to do is find an attorney that you are comfortable working with, then stay on top of the process at every step. The lawyer will take charge and lead you, telling you what you must do next to move the case along. Be involved. Nothing helps a lawyer more than a client's participation. No one is as invested as you are in the outcome of your case. Nobody knows your opponent better than you. Your active engagement allows the attorney to do a better job on your behalf for less money, time, and increases the likelihood of achieving success and the outcome you want.
WHY DO SO MANY ATTORNEYS DISCOURAGE COURTROOM LITIGATION?
I recently made small talk with another parent in my son's classroom. Upon hearing what I did for a profession, he rolled his eyes and noted, "Every person getting into a relationship or having a child should first be forced to go to the family court motions docket. Travel to the second floor of the King County Courthouse. People in love should be made to sit on the court bench, listening to that judge, before making any decision."
I liked the tongue-in-suggestion. His negative experience with the family court is common.
Going to court is an uncomfortable, unpleasant experience for both parties. In the twenty-first century, no-fault dissolutions, the judges do not care about your feelings, blame, or mud slinging. It's not relevant. They are there to resolve issues fast, frequently just choosing the middle ground. Judges tend to split the baby in half and give each side a share. They often focus on the big picture issues, and leave smaller issues without resolution. This means that neither party is totally happy with the outcome.
Dockets are overcrowded. You can easily spend half a day in court waiting for your case to be called, paying your lawyer, only for your case not to be heard at all and have to come back. Court is also not a quick fix unless there is an emergency. It can take weeks to secure a court date. In King County, dissolution trial dates are currently being set a year out from the date of filing the initial petition and summons.
Court dates can also impact your job and family responsibilities. Preparing for court absorbs a substantial amount of you and your attorney's time. You may be gathering years of past financial statements, child-related documents, emails, income tax returns, paystubs, and other data. If you have a full-on trial, the process is emotionally draining as you re-live memories, and feelings of guilt, regret, and anger. If you are moving out of your home, you will also be dealing with that adjustment. All of this takes place while you are likely learning to live with less money.
I take the initiative to resolve cases amicably. Not everything needs to be a fight in a case, and most lawyers that I know don't want to waste time bickering. Most cases can be resolved with the right strategy or cooperation. An agreed resolution is cost-effective, less stressful, and less harmful to children. Amicable resolution is not always possible, such as when the opposing party has a mental health or substance abuse issue. Relocation situations are often a zero-sum game and must be litigated in court. In any event, being thoroughly prepared and realistic in expectations about the family court system is mandatory.