The cost of separation and divorce
Our research indicates that people considering separation or divorce think it will cost around $20K to $50K in legal costs. However, this range will only occur in a small number of cases due to the complexity of the matter, and possible lack of co-operation from the other party.
In our experience your legal costs will be significantly less than this, especially if you can reach an agreement. Also because we have Family Law Fixed Fees ™, you have greater certainty of knowing what it is going to cost you right from the beginning.
The advantages of fixed fees
Some of the advantages of fixed fees include:
- You know up front exactly what your costs will be
- You can make realistic arrangements about how and when to pay your legal bills
- You will pay a fee that equals the value you and your lawyer place on the work to be done, not the time it may take
- Your lawyer has a real incentive to get the work done and achieve results – because that’s how they get paid
- You and your lawyer have the same goals and time frame – getting the matter resolved as quickly as possible
- You won’t get any nasty surprises in the mail at the end of each month telling you how many hours you have to pay for
- You won’t be charged for every minute your lawyer spends on the phone or every document that they copy or e-mail. You are charged only the agreed fee for the stage of work that is being done
Your lawyer receives payment only when a stage of the fixed fee process has been successfully completed.
Frequently asked questions
What are fixed fees?
Fixed Fees are pretty simple. You and your lawyer discuss your matter, the work required and the amount to be paid for that work. You then discuss how you will pay for the agreed costs. If you all agree, you sign a contract and the lawyer gets working.
Nothing is done and no charges are incurred until the agreement is in place. This way everyone knows exactly where they stand - and they know that from day one, not months later when the bills start arriving.
In most cases fixed fees provide a practical alternative to hourly billing, especially where you want to get matters settled quickly and at a cost that is both certain and proportionate to the work involved
How do fixed fees work?
To arrive at a fixed fee agreement, the lawyer and the client have to carefully determine the facts, the legal issues involved and develop a plan how the matter is to be handled.
The lawyer then proposes a fixed legal fee that sets out the work that is to be included (and what might be excluded) and the fee which is to be paid.
The fixed fee proposal may involve all stages of a matter or cover only part of the matters that might be involved. Sometimes it is not possible to quote a fixed fee for a later stage until the earlier stages have been completed (for instance, it is not possible to quote a price for preparing a matter for trial before the issues that are to be argued at the trial are known).
If you do not agree with the fixed fee proposal, the matter goes no further. It’s rather like buying a car or a house – unless the buyer and the seller agree, there is no deal.
The fixed fees arrangements form part of the Legal Costs Agreement that is the contract between client and lawyer.
No work is undertaken by the lawyer until the fee arrangements have been agreed and signed off by both parties.
The client will normally be asked to guarantee financial arrangements for the payment of each stage of the work before it is done but the actual payment to the firm may not take place until after the stage is completed.
Further stages will be quoted as and when it is practicable (and necessary) to do so. Most matters in Family Law settle early in the piece and it is, therefore, it;s often unnecessary to quote for work which may never be done.
What work is included in the fixed fee quote?
The precise scope of the work to be undertaken is set out in the Legal Costs Agreement. It will normally include all legal and administrative work that is necessary to complete the particular stage for which the fee was quoted. For instance, if we are to finalise settlement of a matter, that will include the drafting and execution of Court Orders and filing the Orders in the relevant Court.
The work includes preparing documents, dealing with correspondence, communicating with the other party and the Courts. Telephone, e-mail and fax communications will not be charged as separate items. You will not be charged for any time that we spend on your matter, except for Hearings and Conferences (which are set out below).
We include all of our operating costs quotation - like photocopying, telephone charges, faxes and e-mails - within the fixed fee.
What work is NOT included in the fixed fee quote?
The costs that we incur on your behalf in the conduct of your matter (known as ‘disbursements’) are not included in the fixed fee, although we will try to give you an estimate of what disbursements are anticipated in your case.
Work required for the enforcement or implementation of Orders is not included unless specifically specified in the fixed fee quote.
In special circumstances, there may also be specific exclusions which we would discuss with you and would be included in the Legal Cost Agreement.
If you would like to discuss your matter further we can arrange a consultation with one of our lawyers. In this meeting the lawyer will advise you of your rights and what direction they recommend you take. You are not obligated to go any further after this meeting if you decide not to. The cost of this meeting is $330 incl GST. However, you may be entitled to a free consultation – please call our toll free number for further information.
What are disbursements and why are they not included in the fixed fee quotations?
‘Disbursements’ are any costs we incur on your behalf. In most cases it is impossible to know at the beginning exactly what disbursements will be required.
We only incur a disbursement if you agree. We will require that you place money to meet any disbursements into our Trust Account so that the disbursements can be paid when the service is delivered.
Disbursements include expenses such as:
- Fees charged for work done by other professionals (barristers, experts, valuers, psychologists);
- Direct costs incurred in managing a matter such as courier fees; and
- Court filling fees.
Is the implementation of orders included in any stage?
No. It is not possible to know what implementation might be required until Orders are actually made by the Court. We will provide a fixed quote for implementation of Orders after they have been made and, if you agree, we will then proceed to do the specified implementation.
Why are barristers sometimes engaged in family law matters?
Barristers specialise in court appearances and in providing expert opinions about complex legal issues. We may engage a barrister for these purposes when we consider it to be in your best interests and that the benefits justify the cost.
Do I have to pay for telephone calls, e-mails and faxes as well as reading letters or court documents?
No. With Fixed Fees you are charged a single amount for each stage of your matter which covers all of the work we will undertake on your behalf. Of course, barristers and experts are additional to the fixed fees, but you won’t receive a bill for photocopying or sending letters to the other lawyers under fixed fees.
Will the lawyer provide estimates of costs for future work that might be required?
We will give estimates of future work that might be required if this is practicable and sensible. It is difficult to know how a matter will proceed at the start and most family law matters settle quite early – especially if the parties and their lawyers are taking a constructive approach – and the future stages may never be reached.
Therefore, estimates are unnecessary and, in some cases, quite misleading.
How far into the future will you provide fixed fees? How far into the future will you provide fixed fees?
It is often not possible to quote for all stages of a family law matter; it is also often quite unnecessary.
Most family law matters get resolved quite quickly and, in these circumstances, it would be a waste of everyone’s time and effort to prepare quotes for Stages that will never be reached.
Before we start work on any stage - and when we are aware of what is involved - you will be provided with a quote.
What happens if my matter resolves before the work has been done?
If your matter settles before the work is completed for the Stage that has been quoted you will not have to pay the full fees for that Stage. We will advise you what work has been done and you will receive a refund for that part of work that has not been done.
Sometimes the matter will settle by the making of Orders in Court and we will quote you for the preparation and finalisation of Orders.
How do you quote for Court Hearings & Conferences?
We provide an estimate up front of the fee for all Court Hearings and Conferences. This includes any travelling that we may have to undertake unless there is a separate agreement that you would pay for our travel time and costs.
No one can tell you how long a Court Hearing or Conference will take – sometimes they are quick, sometimes they take all day or even longer. So we provide you with a mid range estimate in the fixed fees quote but will charge fees according to whether the Hearing or Conference is short (less than 2 hours), average (between 2 and 4 hours) or long (over 4 hours). These fees are set out in the fixed fees agreement.
What if I receive an Order that the other party pay my costs (or if I have to pay theirs)?
If the Court orders that the other party pay your costs you will receive those moneys in accordance with the Court Order.
Similarly, if the Court orders that you should pay any of the other party’s costs, you will be required to pay that money in addition to any fixed fees quote that we have given you. If you do not pay such Orders we will be unable to continue to represent you.
What are the payment arrangements for fixed fees?
In normal circumstances (unless special arrangements have been agreed), the following arrangements will apply:
- Before work commences on any Stage, you deposit the agreed fixed fees for that Stage into our Trust Account;
- We undertake the agreed work for that Stage;
- When we have completed the work the money is paid from the Trust Account to us;
- You then deposit the fixed fees for the next Stage into our Trust Account and the arrangements continue as above.
Sometimes, and provided you are able to put up appropriate security, we will agree to work prior to moneys being deposited to our Trust Account. But these circumstances will be exceptional.
You may also request a payment plan for the payment of your fixed fees, whereby you deposit a proportion of the fixed fees into our Trust Account on a monthly basis. We will allow this where there is a valid direct debit authority in place but in the event that a payment is not made, we reserve the right to cease work until the account is brought up to date or to terminate the agreement.
How do I pay the amounts required for the fixed fee?
You may pay the agreed fixed fee in cash, by cheque or by direct debit authority.
It is possible that you may obtain a loan from a legal litigation funder.
These companies provide you with the funds to meet your legal expenses (and, sometimes, also to help with your living expenses). Fees will be payable to establish the loan and interest will be charged. The lender will also require security over a property in which you have an interest (to ensure that there is a source of payment if you cannot repay the loan at the end of the matter).
Usually you repay all of the loan plus the costs when all of the proceedings have been finalised.
What other credit arrangements might be available for the payment of the fixed fees?
Using or obtaining a new credit card, arranging a guarantee or a loan facility from your bank are other options for the payment of your legal fees.