Beginning the Divorce Process and the Worthy Investment of a Retainer
To make sure that you are fully supported in your case from start to finish, it is important that you retain a skilled attorney, which can be done in a number of ways.
When someone is considering divorce, there is a myriad of things to contemplate, not the least of which is money. Many couples even stay in a suffocating or toxic relationship because the concept of having to shell out loads of money for a divorce seems overwhelming. While the specifics of your situation determine a lot about how much the divorce will eventually cost, there are some baseline realities when it comes to financing a divorce that can help you choose a quality attorney to guide you through the legal process of uncoupling. Read on to learn more about some basics of divorce finance, particularly the retainer fee.
What types of retainer fees are there?
A retainer is simply a fee paid in advance for work and services. The most common retainer is a general retainer, and these are usually fees paid in advance for work done during a set time. For example, if you pay an attorney a retainer fee (according to the rates they set) for 100 hours of service, the attorney will be expected to be accessible to you during that time, answering questions and actively working on your case. Each hour the attorney is working on your particular case is covered by the general retainer. Upon reaching 100 hours of work – even if the proceedings are not complete and resolved – the attorney will charge you an additional retainer fee.
Though New Jersey law does not require it, retainer fees are generally placed into an account separate from the attorney’s operating budget account. Most states legally require that retainer fees be placed into a trust account because retainer funds are considered to be the clients. However, New York and New Jersey operate under different standards, by which the attorney and client determine together whether the funds will be placed within the attorney’s operating budget or will be held aside to ensure proper use of the funds. If an attorney is agreeing with a client that, in exchange for the retainer fee, they will be available during the time the client needs, those funds belong to the attorney, and as such, they may be deposited into the firm’s account that contains their operating budget.
Note that there is also a retainer fee model called the special retainer, which is a flat fee for work paid upfront for the entirety of the project. This model is legal in New Jersey, but it is rarely used in divorce matters. This is because it leaves open the possibility that the case will go on beyond what an attorney would consider fair and reasonable in exchange for the pay they received, and as such, they may provide lower quality service. The other risk is that the proceeding is resolved quickly, and the client is not refunded unused funds (which is the case in general retainers). Be very careful before entering into a client-attorney relationship that includes a flat fee. While it may appear tempting because of reduced rates and a closed-circuit model, there are many reasons for taking the more traditional approach. Notably, a criminal case that fits within the attorney’s usual types of cases handled can often be billed as a flat fee retainer. Since the process is more straightforward than a divorce case, which can be even more unpredictable, a total price for handling criminal charges is not uncommon in New Jersey.
Once you and your attorney have decided on a retainer type and fee structure, the attorney moves forward with an hourly rate, extracting, from whichever account the retainer funds are placed, funds in exchange for the work hours rendered. Some attorneys, depending on their line of work, arrange pay not by flat fee or retainer, but on a contingency basis. This means that the attorney receives a percentage of what the client receives. This is much more common in personal injury law, for example, and is rarely considered in a divorce.
How is my retainer fee determined?
There are multiple considerations an attorney reviews when determining the rate they will charge you, and, therefore, what the baseline retainer fee will be. One factor that goes into how much an attorney charges, of course, is their experience and their placement within the firm (whether they are partners, associates, etc). Once this baseline factor is established, the attorney will look at the specifics of your case. What are the details of the case, and is it a fairly straightforward issue, or one that has more nuance? In the case of divorce, how well do the separating spouses get along? Is there a potential that personal conflict will complicate matters and extend the process, perhaps even to a scenario in which litigation is necessary?
Seek the advice of a local and professional divorce attorney to obtain the best possible outcome in your case.
If you are navigating a divorce and want to ensure that you are taking the right steps, we recommend contacting a skilled divorce and family law attorney who regularly practices in this area in New Jersey. If you are ready to begin the process of divorce or have arrived at any stage in need of further legal assistance, our firm is here for you.