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Family Court System Sucks. We Are Making it Better.

family law attorney peoria az
Family Court System Sucks. We are Making it Better.

The average Arizona Divorce Lawyer charges between $250 and $300 per hour. Nationally, the average divorce costs $20,000. Many cost much much more, and the $20,000 doesn’t factor in post decree modifications, changing child support, enforcing the decree etc. One employee here in the office went through a divorce (prior to his attending law school) that cost him $150,000! And he settled his case prior to going to trial.
The bottom line is that 80% of litigants in family court do not have an attorney and 50,000 people this year alone in Maricopa county will not have representation in family court. The consequences of these cases effect the most fundamental and personal issues confronting our lives, our financial security, and the lives of our children.
There is no doubt that if you can afford to have an attorney represent you from start to finish, it is the best option. If attorneys were provided, you would be silly not to use one. But what often happens is a client begins their case with an attorney, deposits $5000 into a trust account and then runs out of funds some time after a temporary orders hearing or in the middle of discover. At that point, the attorney withdraws and the client is left without representation during the most critical time during their case.
With that in mind, Modern law Attorney Billie Tarascio came up with an alternative. Access Legal, is a cloud based software for legal document automation. It is also a certified legal document preparation entity. What Billie suggests is that instead of running out of money prior to the final hearing, people may want to consider representing themselves through the initial and discovery phases of their divorce. Using limited scope legal services for coaching, and Access Legal Software to create your personal and professional legal documents, you can save your money to hire an attorney after phase two.

We break a family law case down into the following phases.

1. Initial document drafting. This includes the petition, response, and temporary orders requests.
2. The resolution management conference and/or temporary orders hearings.
3. Discovery. This includes your initial Rule 49 disclosures, interrogatories, requests for admissions, requests for production of documents, depositions and subpoena’s.
4. Trial Preparation. This includes identification of exhibits and witnesses, preparing your joint or separate pretrial statement, negotiations, settlement proposals etc. This may also include a mediation or another form of ADR.
5. Trial or your evidentiary hearing. This is where you present your evidence, witnesses and argue what you would like to see for an outcome.
Based on the above phases, it is recommended that you determine your budget prior to starting your case with an attorney. Or, better yet, work closely with an attorney to determine your budget and plan the best strategy for presenting your divorce case. It is almost always a bad thing to run out of money after phase three and unfortunately, it happens very frequently.
Here is the comprehensive guide to for how to get a divorce when you have a low budget, you are looking for a low cost attorney, or one who will work with you and your budget. Instead of specifically looking for a low cost divorce attorney in mesa or a low budget divorce attorneys in Mesa Arizona, instead you should be informed about your options, and had keep your total cost of a divorce low. If you specifically look for a cheap attorney, a low cost attorney, or a budget attorney, make sure to ask about that attorney’s qualifications. Many new and experienced lawyers, advertise themselves as low cost divorce attorneys. Instead look for experienced and knowledgeable attorneys that offer you options. At Modern Law, we offer more than five different options and payment plans for our clients. Read about them all here.
When it comes to paying for a divorce, you have many options for what will work best for you and your budget.
This article will give you information about what a divorce typically costs, how to save money in your divorce, your various outside-the-box options to pay for divorce, such as flat fee divorce options, online divorce, and do-it-yourself divorce, and limited scope legal services including working with a certified legal document preparer.

Divorce Fees: You Have Options

Modern law-divorce-expensesHow much does it cost to get divorced?

Many people want to know what a divorce typically costs. It depends. The average cost, nationwide, is roughly $20,000—for EACH spouse. However, I know of people who spend less than $500 to get divorced and others who spend more than $100,000!
The biggest factor in how much a divorce costs, and how much you will spend to get divorced, is whether or not you will do it yourself, use a paralegal/document preparer, or have an attorney or lawyer represent you in your divorce. We will discuss each option below. Regardless of which representation option you choose, there are things you can do to save money in your divorce. Proper planning and preparation will help you save money during your divorce.

How to Save Money in Your Divorce

Follow this step-by-step plan and rack up the savings.

  1. Determine your objectives.Think about the issues that must be resolved in your case, including custody issues, property issues, debts, alimony, and any other issues that will need to be worked out. Consider the range of outcomes you can live with for each issue below and think about your best case, worst case, and the happy medium you can live with.

Possible issues in your divorce include:

  • Property and debt division
    • Family businesses
    • Student loans
    • Mortgages
    • Credit card debt
    • Separate or premarital assets or debts
    • Inheritances
    • Insurance settlements
    • Property
  • Legal decision making
    • Domestic violence
    • Addiction issues
    • Mental health issues
    • Differences in religion
    • Differences in schooling preferences
    • Differences in medical treatment opinions
  • Parenting time
    • Consider work schedules
    • Consider how far apart you live
    • Consider where the children go to school
    • How old are the children?
    • What are their preferences?
  • Child support
    • You need to know all income
    • Child care costs
    • Non-joint children
    • Medical costs
    • Spousal maintenance paid and received
    • Parenting time schedule
  • Spousal maintenance/alimony
    • Does one party rely on the other?
    • What will your budget be?
    • Where will you live?
    • Consult the statute to find out if you or the other party will likely qualify
  1. Gather your resources. Once you have a practical idea of the issues you will be addressing, you can begin gathering your resources. Gathering your resources refers to both financial and emotional resources.

Consider how much you are willing to spend to achieve your objectives. Do a cost-benefit analysis associated with your best case and worst case scenarios regarding the issues we have outlined above. For instance, if you have hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, you should be prepared to defend your position and make whatever short-term arrangements you need to in order to protect your future.
If you or your spouse have no children and are dividing debt, then you will probably not need an attorney to fight over the division of debt. If you do end up using an attorney, their costs should be kept to a minimum in order to ensure you do not spend more on fees than you would gain from the financial benefits of legal representation.
Also, gather your emotional support resources. One of the reasons people end up spending so much money is that they tend to use their lawyer as a friend or sounding board. While a certain amount of emotional support should be expected from your attorney, you should not go to your attorney for advice and support on non-legal issues. They are not equipped to give you good counseling and they are far too expensive to use in that role.

  1. Know your options. Depending on your budget and the issues in your case, you will need to determine whether or not you want to take care of your divorce without the assistance of an attorney—in other words, to determine whether you are a good candidate for a do-it-yourself divorce.

Next we will talk about do-it-yourself divorce, certified legal document preparers, limited scope attorneys, and alternative attorney fee arrangements.

Do-It-Yourself Divorce

do-it-yourselfShould you DIY? Between 80% and 90% of individuals represent themselves in family court. Sometimes this works out very well. Other times, it can be disastrous. If you decide to represent yourself, there are things you can do to avoid disaster.
To determine whether you are a good candidate for a do-it-yourself divorce, you should analyze how complex the legal issues are and then consider your personality traits and disposition.
First, how legally complicated is your case?
How many of the issues above did you identify as relevant to your case? How long have you been married? How many of the issues below are in dispute? Do you understand the law and procedures? In general, if you have more than five of the issues below, or have any substantial assets, you may not be a good candidate for a do-it-yourself divorce.
Possible issues in your divorce include:

  • Property and debt division
    • Family businesses
    • Student loans
    • Mortgages
    • Credit card debt
    • Separate or premarital assets or debts
    • Inheritances
    • Insurance settlements
    • Property
  • Legal decision making
    • Domestic violence issues
    • Addiction issues
    • Mental health issues
    • Differences in religion
    • Differences in schooling preferences
    • Differences in medical treatment opinions
  • Parenting Time
    • Consider work schedules
    • Consider how far apart you live
    • Consider where the children go to school
    • How old are the children?
    • What are their preferences?
  • Child Support
    • You need to know all income
    • Child care costs
    • Non-joint children
    • Medical costs
    • Spousal maintenance paid and received
    • Parenting time schedule
  • Spousal maintenance/alimony
    • Does one party rely on the other?
    • What will your budget be?
    • Where will you live?
    • Consult the statute to find out if you or the other party will likely qualify

Are you emotionally and practically suited for the do-it-yourself divorce?
The next step in the analysis of whether or not you are a good candidate for the do-it-yourself divorce is more practical. You will need to determine how emotionally complicated things are for you right now, and whether your personality traits lend themselves to successful do-it-yourself representation.
Here are some practical questions to ask:

  1. Are you on time for meetings and deadlines?

It is essential that you file documents on time and show up for court early. Missing these deadlines can have disastrous consequences for your case.

  1. Do you have the time to make it happen? Can you make it to the courthouse during the day (during business hours)?

If you are representing yourself you will need to be at the courthouse during business hours to file documents and appear at hearings. Using a lawyer means you would need to be at the courthouse less.

  1. Do you fill out and file your own income tax returns?

If you are comfortable filing your own taxes, this may be a good indication you will be equipped to file your own court documents. Court forms can be complicated, much like income tax returns. You will be expected to read lengthy instructions and pay close attention to detail when completing your documents.

  1. Are you comfortable doing research, in a library or on a computer?

Information is available to you on all of the rules and statutes. Most people find it overwhelming, but some love the research. If you like learning and researching, you will be well-suited for a DIY divorce. Most people do not know the law and rules that control their cases.
Learning the law and rules for your case is required to be successful. While the court may provide forms for you to fill out and file, you will likely have questions. Court staff can only give you limited answers to your questions because of their duty to be fair to all parties.
Pro Per (self-represented) litigants are held to the SAME STANDARD as attorneys. If you do not take the time to learn the law and rules of your case, you are unlikely to be successful. You may also feel frustrated and unfairly treated because you do not understand what is happening.

  1. Are you likely to be clear and calm when you stand up and speak in court and in documents? Do you communicate well both orally and in writing? Do you feel comfortable articulating your position as it relates to the law?

Representing yourself means you must attend all the scheduled appearances with the judge or commissioner. At these appearances, you will be required to speak clearly and logically while presenting your case.
It is even more important that you draft your documents clearly and convincingly. The judge will read prehearing statements before trial. Sometimes a judge has already made up their mind prior to anyone speaking in court.
If the other party has a lawyer and you do not, you cannot count on the other lawyer to help you or speak for you. You must speak to the court yourself.

  1. Do you easily get angry under stress? Where are you at emotionally? On a scale of 1-10, if your emotions are above a 6, you will likely need representation.

Coming to court can be difficult and stressful for anyone, even with a lawyer. Family law is personal; there is no way around it. Honestly assess whether it will be difficult to control your emotions in the courtroom and while speaking. You may also find that your good judgment is clouded by your stress or anger.
You must be courteous at all times to court staff, the judge or commissioner, and the other party to your case. You cannot interrupt the other party, or the judge or commissioner, while they are speaking.

  1. Are you often frustrated by rules you think are unfair or should not apply to you?

All types of cases are controlled by rules and procedures. These rules and procedures are in place to give everyone a level playing field. Though a rule may seem silly or wrong, the rule must be followed to make sure your case is fair.

  1. Can you make decisions and stick to them?

Most court processes are formal and lasting. Once you make a claim, a statement, or a filing, it is difficult to make changes. Any doubts or questions should be considered and answered before you start.

  1. Can you live with some mistakes?

If you represent yourself, you are likely to make some mistakes. If you regret decisions, or often dwell on actions you have taken, you may cause yourself stress and anxiety. You may also hurt your ability to be successful in your case.

  1. What is at stake in your case? Do you and the other party get along?

Every case is important, but some cases may have a bigger effect on you because of the large amount of money (or property) involved, or other people involved (like children). Cases with more money or people to consider are more complicated. Using a lawyer will make these cases less confusing and upsetting, and prevent mistakes that could be difficult or impossible to correct after the case is over.
If you and the other party had a relationship that included physical or emotional abuse, you may have trouble keeping a steady emotional state. Being calm and logical is necessary to make good decisions in your case. Using a lawyer may help you keep a safe and comfortable distance from the other party.
If you feel the other party is good at “hiding” money or property (like on tax forms), or if you have no idea about the other party’s financial status, using a lawyer may be helpful in locating the other party’s finances and collecting on a judgment or settlement.
Many people represent themselves because they have no other option. Others determine that the cost of an attorney is not worth the benefit of full-scope representation. The quiz above can help you determine whether you are a good candidate for a do-it-yourself divorce.
Final thoughts on the do-it-yourself divorce

  • While Arizona allows self-representation in divorce cases, it holds the party to the same standard as lawyers. If you miss a deadline, or sign a divorce agreement without fully understanding the terms, you’re out of luck. You can’t plead ineffective assistance of counsel—the courts presume you knew all the risks beforehand, and you’ll have to take the consequences.
  • There are no do-overs. I have spoken to many litigants who represented themselves and have come to me for help after their case has gone horribly wrong. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the time I cannot set aside the ruling. Property division is non-modifiable. Spousal maintenance is a one-time shot. You cannot go back after you have waived alimony and get spousal maintenance.
  • If your ex has hired an attorney, you need someone on your side too. Suppose you file for a divorce, but your spouse decides to contest it and hires an attorney. That attorney will be able to get their client, your ex, a good settlement, at your expense. They know all the rules, and if your divorce goes before a judge, they can have some of your evidence excluded, if you don’t follow the rules.
  • Do not try to represent yourself if the divorce is contested. Get help, even if it’s behind the scenes. Only a lawyer will know how to present your evidence and dispute any claims made by your spouse’s attorney.

DIY divorce — tips and tools

free resourcesTake advantage of free resources. Before you file anything, educate yourself about your local laws and procedures. Check out any local free resources geared toward education, including seminars, webinars, articles, and/or consultations with attorneys. 
If you are not a good candidate for a DIY divorce, but your budget will not allow for a traditional attorney, you have several options, including certified legal document preparers, certified paralegals and limited-scope attorneys.

What is a certified legal document preparer (CLDP)?

Did you know that if someone is not a lawyer or a CLDP, completing legal forms for you to file is the unauthorized practice of law? It is prohibited. This is because legal documents have lasting and serious consequences. Only those who are trained to understand the consequences and ramifications are allowed to prepare legal documents.
A certified legal document preparer (CLDP) is someone who is certified by the state to help prepare legal documents for people who do not have lawyers. This is an excellent option for people who have a limited budget, no lawyer, and they want support while they represent themselves.
Some of the requirements to become a CLDP include passing a background and fingerprint check, passing a rigorous examination, and having at least two years of law-related experience (usually by working at a law firm or a court) and/or at least 24 credits of law-related education.
Because of this last requirement, many CLDPs are also paralegals.
Access Legal is a company that grew out of Modern Law to help self-representing individuals in Arizona! With Access Legal you can find local documents and resources. Be wary of companies simply providing “forms” to all states. They are not likely to offer all of the resources you need in order to protect yourself.
What’s the difference between a CLDP and a paralegal?
Unlike a paralegal, a CLDP does not work under the supervision of a lawyer. A CLDP must make it clear to any customer that the CLDP is not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice. They do not have a lawyer checking their work or giving them guidance or supervision.
What can a CLDP tell me?
A CLDP can give a customer “general factual information pertaining to legal rights, procedures, or options available.”
For example, a CLDP cannot answer the question, “Should I ask for spousal maintenance?”, but he/she can show the customer the statute regarding what the court considers when deciding whether to grant spousal maintenance (in this case, ARS 25-319).
In short, a CLDP can give you legal information, but not advice.
Why would I use a CLDP?
In a family court matter like a divorce, unless the relationship is particularly contentious and/or the community property/debt situation is particularly complex, a person may benefit from using a CLDP, especially at the beginning stages of the case; after all, a CLDP is less expensive than hiring a lawyer, and many of the documents required to begin a divorce proceeding may seem complicated and intimidating. In short, you may save money but still rest easy knowing your documents are correct.
How does Access Legal’s CLDP help you?
Access Legal offers statewide document preparation, with documents developed by local attorneys. We offer webinars, e-books, workbooks, referrals and more. Our CLDP has more than 10 years of experience in local family law. She has worked both under the supervision of an attorney as a paralegal and independently as a CLDP. Many clients seamlessly move from working with attorneys to CLDPs and back as necessary, or they DIY with the assistance of a qualified and competent CLDP.
 What can I accomplish with Access Legal?
You can do everything you want to do without hiring an attorney to negotiate for you and appear for you in court. You can use Access Legal to prepare for and litigate property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support. You can use it to have your divorce granted by the court. You have the legal right to do all of this yourself without hiring an attorney.
How much does Access Legal cost?
You have several options for how to use Access Legal:

  1. Pay per document. Simply select the document you need and fill out the online questionnaire. Every purchase includes free document review and revision from our CLDP.
  2. Want more support? Consider membership. The cost is $199/ month and it includes unlimited documents and unlimited support from a certified legal document preparer. 

Online Divorce

So much of what we do these days is online, why shouldn’t we be able to get an online divorce? You can.
There is no reason you should ever have to set foot in attorney’s offices and many people, especially those out of state, benefit from an online divorce. By using Skype or Google Chat, you can talk with your attorney or legal document preparer.
You can find online divorce forms from the state or county, or from online providers like Access Legal. This will allow you to complete your initial documents in the privacy of your home and help secure an online divorce.
With that being said, there are a few steps in your case that will require someone to go to the courthouse. Your initial filings can’t be e-filed and the other party will have to be served. You can ask the other party to accept service, which will save you the cost and headache of hiring a process server.
In some cases, you may be required to go to the courthouse to secure a final decree. For instance, if you are seeking a divorce by default and you have minor children, you will be required to go to the court for a default hearing in order to secure your divorce.
Getting an online divorce is possible, especially if the case is uncontested. Even in contested cases, many steps can be completed online. In the event there are pieces that cannot be done online, you can either hire an attorney to complete those pieces or you can do them yourself.

Traditional Arrangements with Attorneys 

Traditional attorney arrangements include depositing an advanced fee or “retainer” into a trust account for the attorney to bill against at his/her hourly rate. When the trust reaches a certain amount, the client is expected to put more money into the account.
How traditional attorney billing works
How this works in practice is that everyone who touches your case is assigned a different rate. Typically, an attorney charges between $250-$450 per hour, paralegals bill between $90-$180 per hour, and administrative staff bill between $60-$100 per hour. Then each person who touches your case tracks every minute they spend talking to you, reading your emails, opening mail related to your case, drafting, researching, setting up your file, etc. You then receive periodic invoices telling you exactly what your attorney and the firm have done on your case. There is no cap and there is no guarantee of results.
The dangers of the arrangement
I have learned so much from working with lawyers from the client’s perspective. I recently received a very unpleasant surprise, and it isn’t the first time it has happened. I hire an attorney for a project. We come up with an estimated retainer. I deposit the money and off they go. Months later, after the project is completed, I get an invoice. Undoubtedly the invoice well exceeds our retainer and I am annoyed, angry and feel I was wrongfully overcharged. Sometimes charges show up for when my attorney met with the senior attorney; I see on the invoice my $320/hour attorney charge and the $450/hour attorney charge because she spoke with her boss.
Why am I annoyed? The lack of communication is what bothers me. As a client I prefer to know in advance when I will be invoiced and which services I will be charged for, so I know what to expect. (At Modern Law, we invoice on the 5th and 20th of each month.)
As a client, I appreciate being told what is being done on my case and how much I should expect my overall bill should cost. I want to know how my attorney is spending my hard-earned money and what they are doing on my project/case. You have a right to expect the same courtesy from your attorney.
Protect yourself from unexpected attorney bills
If you are working with an attorney in a traditional arrangement, make sure the fee agreement expressly states when and how often they will bill you.
Additionally, ask the attorney to tell you when it is clear that they will exceed the estimated budget/retainer. We all certainly understand that a legal budget is a moving target, subject to change with what the attorney finds while researching, or what opposing counsel may do. If an attorney simply communicates early and often, we may not like the high legal fees, but at least we will expect them.
Here is how we handle the traditional arrangement at Modern Law:
The client should have the ability to do a cost-benefit analysis of what we do as lawyers. For instance, the client should decide whether to file a motion to dismiss or simply respond to the untimely petition.
The client should decide whether or not we depose the opposing party. When I receive a notice of deposition for my client, he or she should be informed immediately that this will have an impact on their overall fees.
As a client, we want some skin in the game. We want to be savvy shoppers. We want input and we want to know the impact of our decisions.
Clear communication with the client also protects the lawyer. When the client decides, “YES, file the motion to dismiss,” he/she will not be surprised to see it on their invoice (hopefully next week) and will be much more likely to pay.
The world is changing! Many clients’ expectations are changing too. If you want the ability to make decisions in your case and have frequent, meaningful conversations, make sure your attorney knows. Interview carefully.
Other ways to save money in your divorce
Get organized. Deliver to your attorney a complete set of the documents they have requested in an organized and easy-to-understand format. If you need assistance with this, hire someone to help you do your homework! It will be much less expensive than paying an attorney to organize your documents.
Be disciplined in your communications. Resist the urge to email or call your attorney every time your ex does something that you don’t like. Instead, keep a journal of your thoughts and questions and put together a thorough email once a week of everything that you consider important. Alternatively, schedule a meeting to go over your questions with your attorney.
Remember your objectives. Resist the urge to get caught up in the details and drama of your case. Continue to refer to your goals and objectives and remember what you determined you “could live with.” People rarely get everything they are asking for in a divorce and it makes sense to continually do a cost-benefit analysis of each and every step your attorney proposed.
By staying purposeful, you can help control your divorce costs and outcome. Make sure you are working with someone you trust. If you are uncomfortable in your current situation, consider making a change.

Options to Pay for Your Divorce

What are your funding options for paying for your divorce?
Many of my clients need money for representation in a divorce. Often, one spouse controls the majority of the assets, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the spouse without access to secure the representation they need in order to get an equitable distribution. Here are some options for how people typically fund their divorce.

  1. Cash or reserve funds. For people who have the savings set aside, the easiest way to pay for an attorney is by using the savings.
  2. Credit cards. Many people use credit cards to deposit money into a trust account or pay a flat fee for a divorce. Most attorneys accept credit cards. One possible advantage to using credit cards is that the total debt may be divided between spouses. This means if you don’t have access to funds but you do have access to credit, you could end up only paying half, or even less of your attorney’s fees yourself.
  3. Borrowing money from your retirement account. Some people take money out of their retirement account in order to pay for their attorney. You may be able to avoid the penalties of cashing out a retirement fund early by using the tax code and your divorce to your advantage. Be aware, you will need to make this withdrawal before you or your spouse files for divorce. After a petition for divorce has been filed, a preliminary injunction is in place, which prohibits the withdrawal of retirement funds in most circumstances. Ask your attorney for details.
  4. Borrowing money from family or friends. Many people receive financial assistance from their family or friends during a divorce. This may take the form of a gift or a loan. Many times this works out without any problems. But be aware that this can cause difficulties if the person who’s paying wishes to control your case. At Modern Law, we make it very clear to the third parties that they are free to pay for the case, but they will not have any of the advantages that the client receives. The client alone will control the objectives of the case.
  5. Third-Party Divorce Funding. A fifth option, and one that is rarely utilized, is third-party divorce funding. Often, clients would like the attorney to offer financing or a payment plan. This is a bad idea and probably a conflict of interest! An attorney cannot best represent a client who owes thousands of dollars to the firm. It could cloud the lawyers’ judgment or affect the level of representation provided to the client. But, if the client doesn’t have access to money, or family who can loan them money, what can they do?

Third-party divorce funding is becoming an increasingly viable option for clients. Two well-known companies that offer funding are:
A third, newer player, “Nationwide Divorce Funding,” is also an option for divorcing spouses.
In my humble opinion, it is best to borrow money from financing companies, or outside sources, not from attorneys or law firms.
Next we will discuss alternative fee arrangements with divorce attorneys, which include:

  • Limited scope attorney arrangements
  • Flat fee divorce
  • Capped fee divorce

Limited Scope Legal Services 

Limited scope legal services mean you hire the attorney to complete tasks or phases of your case, not the whole case. They may not become your attorney of record, but you are not handing them a blank check either. You are doing parts of the case on your own, like in the do-it-yourself divorce section, but you are hiring an attorney for the pieces of the case you are not comfortable doing yourself.
Consider using an attorney on a limited scope basis. Just because you decide to represent yourself doesn’t mean you can’t use an attorney for anything. Many attorneys are now offering “limited scope” or “unbundled” legal services. This means that you hire an attorney for pieces of your case, but not to do everything. This can be a very viable option for those who have complicated issues but don’t have $20,000 or more to spend on an attorney.
Consider doing the preliminary paperwork yourself, gathering documents and information, and then hiring an attorney to represent you in court. By doing some of the work yourself you can cut down on the overall costs and still get many of the benefits of having an attorney involved. You can truly craft this option to your case and budget.
Make sure you find an experienced attorney (one with at least two years experience in YOUR area) who is familiar with practicing limited scope legal services. Inexperienced attorneys will not be able to equip you with the knowledge you need if they are not responsible for your case. Likewise, if an attorney is unfamiliar with limited scope legal services, he or she may not offer the best resources or advice for working together.
I have been using limited scope legal services extensively for the last five years and have spoken both statewide and nationally on how attorneys can best use limited scope legal services. Make sure the attorney will work with you to determine the best way to use your budget and work with you on a limited scope basis.
See our complete section on how to hire an attorney.

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Flat Fee Divorce Options

If you know you want an attorney to handle all aspects of your divorce, consider proposing a flat fee arrangement. This will only work if you have a good deal of cash to shell out up front, but could save you considerable money in the long term. If you are able to negotiate a flat fee with your attorney, you will not have to worry about monthly invoices or by-the-minute billing. This could make the arrangement much more beneficial and stress-free for you. However, some attorneys who work on a flat fee basis may charge between $20,000-$50,000 for a flat fee divorce.
Modern Law recently expanded our fee model to allow clients to lock in a flat fee price for their divorce or family law case. The result has been astounding. More than half of the people we talk with are signing up to take advantage of the flat fee model. In fact, we are close to being in a position of turning clients away due to the sharp increase in demand. What is going on?

  1. Flat fees bring people certainty.
  2. Flat fees shift the risk to the attorney.
  3. Flat fees align the objectives of the attorney and the client.
  4. Flat fees encourage results and efficiency. 

The flat fee divorce is very different from the traditional model.
For instance, in our standard advanced fee agreement we include language explaining that we are making no guarantees about the final price or results obtained through representation. You will be billed hourly (per minute actually) for every time we touch your case. The more time it takes us, the more it costs you.
The average divorce in this country costs each side $20,000. Your divorce may cost $5k or it may cost $50k. We have no way of knowing or guaranteeing or capping your fees under the traditional model.
With the flat fee model, you know exactly what you need to budget for and how much it will cost to obtain your results. Our attorneys lock in a price with you following our initial consultation. We have also created a calculator you can use in advance to estimate what your flat fee might be.
People love the certainly of knowing that no matter how long it takes, we will get them divorced for a flat fee.
Risk shifts to the attorney
Under the traditional model, all of the risk is on the client. If the opposing party runs up your bill, there is nothing your attorney can do to prevent your bill from climbing. If the judge continues your case three times (which has happened) and you end up litigating for two years, your bill increases. If the opposing party won’t disclose documents you need and we need to subpoena third parties, you will need to pay for your attorney to draft the documents, emails, and process all of the information. All of the risk is on you, the client.
Under the flat fee model, the risk now shifts to the attorney. The attorney is responsible for accomplishing a given objective for a specific price. If the attorney fails to account for all possible contingencies, they will lose money.
At Modern Law, we have always been very conscious of our clients’ budget constraints. No one has an unlimited budget for legal fees, and we have always sought to be good stewards of our clients’ resources. That means many times we may have forgone a deposition or discovery requests of the opposing party in order to save money for clients. With the flat fee model, we can be as creative as we would like in our legal approach without charging the client any more money! This is incredibly freeing for the attorney and makes us better advocates for our clients.
Client and attorney objectives are aligned
Your goal is to achieve favorable results for your divorce or modification or enforcement as quickly as possible. With flat fees, the attorney is also incentivized to achieve the desired outcome as quickly as possible. The attorney actually makes more money per hour by settling your case favorably and efficiently, creating the ultimate win-win for the client and attorney. The longer your case takes, the less money the attorney makes per hour. They are now incentivized to work effectively, efficiently, and creatively on your case.
Results and Efficiency
Have you ever wondered if your attorney is really working as diligently as they can to wrap up your case? Do you hate getting invoices that tell you the attorney spent 0.5 hours talking to the opposing counsel about discovery and disclosure requests? Do you wonder if they also talked about this weekend’s plans or the upcoming convention they are both speaking at? With flat fees, you no longer get those annoying invoices. You no longer have to wonder if your attorney is spending too long on your case. The more efficient your attorney, the better! You are not paying by the minute.
Capped fee divorce
Capped fee divorce is just what it sounds like. The attorney works on an hourly basis but promises at the outset of the divorce not to exceed a certain cap. I don’t have any personal experience with the capped fee divorce, but I can see how this option would be very beneficial to clients. They get the benefits of not overpaying for the number of hours an attorney spends, but also receive a guarantee that the fee will not exceed their given budget.
About the author
Billie Tarascio is an attorney and legal entrepreneur. She is the owner of Modern Law, a Phoenix-based family law firm, and Access Legal, a DIY resource for divorce. She has spent the better part of her career exploring alternative fee arrangements and ways to increase access to justice and reduce legal fees. She is a frequent speaker on issues related to attorneys’ costs, alternative billing, limited scope legal services, and the use of technology in the law to reduce fees. Billie can be reached at 480-649-2905.
Modern Law provides family law attorneys in Mesa AZ and Phoenix divorce lawyers for family law issues throughout Arizona. Our attorneys practice exclusively family law and are committed to achieving results for our clients. Call today for a family law consultation 480-649-2905.

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