Cut Legal Fees With Honesty
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Attorney fees are a major issue in divorce court. Divorce lawyers in Albuquerque charge between $80 to $175 hourly, so their fees can grow very quickly and become very large.
Given that the single most common problem divorcing spouses face is not having enough money, if they're not c areful, they'll find that their lawyers may make that problem worse, not better.
For example, if divorcing parents aren't able to talk to each other respectfully and sensibly about when, where and how they will share their children, they will have to pay their attorneys to talk for them. They can find themselves with combined legal fees of $500 or more just to arrange one weekend visit.
Similarly, divorcing spouses who aren't absolutely honest with one another can find themselves with enormous leg al fees because their lawyers will have to spend time questioning and investigating everything the other side says. T hat can be very expensive.
In divorce cases, the court can order one side to pay all or part of the other side's lawyer fees. This is routinely done in cases where one party has to go to court to get the other party to do what they're supposed to do such as pay supp ort or make the children available for visitation.
Attorney fees are also awarded in cases where neither side did anything wrong but one party has a greater income t han the other, or one side knows more about their community property and its worth. The goal is to balance the power.
In Albuquerque, it is fairly common for judges to have the parties pay their combined attorney fees in proportion to th eir incomes. For instance, if one side's annual income is $50,000 while the other side's is $25,000, the first side would pay 2/3rds of both lawyers' fees, while the other would pay 1/3 of both fees. Proportional payment generally happens if both sid es are reasonable or if both are equally unreasonable.
If one side offers to settle the case but the other side refuses to agree and then "loses" in court, judges often order the on e who unreasonably refused to settle to pay the reasonable side's attorney fees.
Of course, in the American legal system, each side has a right to demand a full trial about attorney fees. The rules of la w say there must be evidence that the fees were reasonable in amount and for work that was necessary to be done. The judge also needs to consider evidence about:
-the complexity of the case
-the successfulness of the outcome
-the lawyer's reputation among her peers
-the ability of each party to pay
and other factors. People who insist on a full trial on attorney fees need to know they will in cur still more attorney fees to argue about attorney fees. That can include fees to other lawyer s who serve as expert witnesses for the original lawyers. I once presided over a trial where the par ties incurred $14,000 in legal fees and expert witness fees to argue about $5,000 of attorney fees.
The lesson is that lawyer fees don't need to become enormous in divorce cases if the divorcing spouses are honest and reasonable. But, if one or both of them loses their good sense, the lawyers fees can be staggering.
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