Q&A: How much will my divorce cost in Alabama?

As a divorce attorney in Alabama, one of the first questions I am asked by a potential client is, "how much is my divorce going to cost?" My answer, while predictable and perhaps unsatisfactory, is "it depends." The cost of a divorce depends on a number of issues that may or may not need to be addressed in your divorce. Listed below are some factors that contribute to the cost of your divorce:

Who is paying your attorneys fees?: In most divorces, each spouse will be responsible for their own attorneys fees and court costs upfront. In some cases, however, your attorney may request that your spouse be responsible for some or all of those fees and costs. For instance, if you are a stay-at-home parent and have no independent sources of income, a judge may order your spouse to pay your attorney's initial retainer.

Do you want to fight or cooperate?: If you and your spouse are able to reach an agreement on issues such as child support, child custody, and the division of marital property, then the amount you will spend on your legal fees and court costs will be dramatically less. Time spent by your attorney negotiating and/or litigating these issues means time billed. Most attorneys charge by the hour and can charge anywhere from $150 to $400 an hour.

Do you have children?: Some of the most contentious issues that arise in a divorce are child custody and visitation issues. If your spouse has engaged in behavior which calls into question his or her ability to properly parent, then a judge might appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to represent the child's best interests. In some cases, a judge may even order a party to submit to a psychological evaluation. The costs of a psychological evaluation and the legal fees associated with a GAL's investigation are often charged to the parties. Finally, custody battles will ultimately result in increased attorneys fees as more time will be required of your attorney.

What are your marital assets?: If you have been married a long time, you and your spouse will have accumulated a larger amount of marital property as well as debts. Time spent negotiating the division of property and the payment of debts will result in increased attorneys fees. In high asset divorce cases, an attorney may want to make use of a certified divorce financial analyst, a real estate appraiser or even a financial planner. This is all added expense that you will be expected to pay for.

What is your attorney's legal strategy? What is your spouse's?: If you or your spouse hire an attorney who has a litigation first mentality, then you and your spouse are going to pay for it. There are options to resolving family law and divorce disputes outside of court that make use of cooperative strategies rather than adversarial techniques. Make sure your attorney explains those options to you. The aggressive approach is not always the best one.