When spouses are contemplating divorce in Maryland, the question of whether or not to hire a divorce lawyer is likely to be one of their first considerations. Often couples are adamant at the outset that they will not hire an attorney to keep costs down. However, they then find divorce is considerably more complicated than they imagined.

Another common scenario is when couples agree to be amicable. They may seek an uncontested divorce instead of ‘lawyering up’ and talk to a mediator. Many couples quickly find a “no-fault” divorce is easier on paper than in reality. Marital breakdown is a stressful time when tensions run high. As soon as aspects of the divorce are disputed, it often becomes necessary to hire a lawyer.

Another pitfall of not hiring a lawyer is that you risk leaving important considerations out of the agreement. A poorly drawn up agreement can leave parties exposed or vulnerable and they can lose out on their rights due to their ignorance of the law. The majority of divorcing spouses hire attorneys to help them through their divorce rather than enter a legal minefield alone.

If you are unsure about whether to hire a lawyer, call our Maryland divorce lawyers for a consultation and we will examine your case. Here are some basic questions and answers about how much a family lawyer may cost you.

How Much Do Most Lawyers Charge as a Retainer for Divorce?

Almost all divorce lawyers will ask for a retainer, which is an up-front amount to be paid before taking you on as a client. In this respect, divorce cases differ from personal injury cases in which most attorneys will not bill you initially but retain a percentage of the eventual payout and work on a no-win, no fee basis.

A typical retainer runs from $2,000 to $3,500. Some divorce attorneys will charge up to $5,000 as a retainer, or even more if your case looks likely to go to trial. Any money not earned by the attorney is returned to you at the end of the case.

What is a Retainer Fee for a Divorce Lawyer?

A retainer fee is money paid in advance to a lawyer before any legal work is carried out. This money is in effect a down payment that is applied toward the total fee billed. Divorce attorneys routinely require retainer fees. If an attorney did not ask for a retainer fee, he or she could end up putting in hours of work only to find a client failed to pay or lacked the money.

Typically, a retainer fee allows the attorney to make substantial progress on a client’s case. If the case settles at an early stage, the client may get some of his retainer back. However, if the case proceeds to a trial, the attorney will typically use up the retainer fee and require more money.

How Do you get a Divorce if you Have no Money?

If you have no money, there are mechanisms to file for divorce. Maryland has a fee waiver process which is specifically designed to help people with limited finances terminate their marriages.

Usually, you must “prepay” court filing fees up front, before the court can open your case.  The initial filing fee in civil actions in Maryland is $165. If you are unable to pay these court filing fees, you can request the court to waive the fees at the beginning of the case.  You must submit your request with the complaint or other documents you intend to file. The court will base its decision on the MLSC Client Income Eligibility Guidelines.  If the court allows your request, it will accept your filing and begin your case.

Hiring a divorce lawyer is problematic with no money but it’s not impossible. Divorce lawyers can file a motion with the court asking that your spouse foot your legal bills. This is an option to talk to your attorney about if your spouse is the primary breadwinner and you do not have access to marital funds. Some attorneys will consider this course of action, particularly when the other spouse has significant marital assets.

How Much Does It Cost to Start Divorce Proceedings in Maryland?

The cost of commencing divorce proceedings in Maryland will depend on whether or not you hire a lawyer. If you hire an attorney, you will typically have to pay a retainer which may be up to $5,000. If you file for divorce yourself in the Maryland courts, you will pay $165 to file the case and the same amount for a supplemental complaint after a final judgment for limited divorce. Typically, there are additional costs for services such as photocopying.

If you are filing a petition for divorce, you will face additional expenses if you are not willing to present a copy of the complaint directly to your partner. Your spouse may file an official response countering a divorce or any of the statements in the complaint. An additional fee will be charged for processing this paperwork.

How Much Does it Cost to Get an Uncontested Divorce?

The least expensive type of divorce in Maryland involves couples who file a joint petition for an uncontested separation where no children are involved. In these cases, there is no necessity for a 12-month waiting period for divorce. This quick divorce usually keeps costs down to a filing fee and additional expenses. A quick divorce may cost around $200.

However, even in uncontested divorces, a lawyer is often hired to check the agreement and look out for potential pitfalls. Usually, the legal costs will be considerably less than in a contested divorce.

Can You Make Your Spouse Pay for the Divorce?

You cannot force your spouse to pay for the divorce but in some cases, a judge will order one spouse to foot the other’s legal costs. In Maryland as in most states, family law courts are authorized to order one of the spouses to contribute to the other spouse’s attorney’s fees.

An application for the other spouse to pay your legal fees will only usually be successful when there is a large income gap between the parties and the other spouse is earning considerably more.  In these cases, judges usually have the ability to order the higher-earning spouse to cover part or all of the lower-earning (or non-earning) spouse’s fees.

How Cheap Can You Get a Divorce in Maryland?

If you have little or no income and you want to get divorced, you can request the court waives the filing fees and other fees at the beginning of the case. You must submit your request at the outset with the original filing documents. If you meet low-income criteria and file a waiver, you may be able to get divorced for free.

How Can I File for a Divorce on My Own?

You can file for a divorce on your own by initially completing a “Complaint for Absolute Divorce” form as well as the “Civil Domestic Case Information Report.” Both of these forms can be found on the website of the Maryland courts.

The spouse who is applying for the divorce must file the papers in the circuit court that covers his or her county. Maryland has eight circuit courts. Each court covers one or more counties.

Once a complaint has been filed with the court, the court clerk will issue a
“Writ of Summons” as well as a copy of the complaint. These two documents must be “served” on the defendant spouse.

Although starting the divorce process is straightforward, it can quickly become complicated when the divorce is contested or children are involved. In these cases, parties often hire attorneys to help them clarify their issues.

How Much Will My Divorce Cost and How Long Will It Take?

According to a Lawyers.com article, the average divorce in Maryland costs $14,000, including $11,000 in attorneys’ fees. Legal fees represent a sizeable chunk of the cost of divorce because the average hourly rate for attorneys in Maryland is about $270.

Additional costs may include compensation for expert witnesses, guardian ad litem, and financial analysts.

Uncontested divorces that don’t involve children in Maryland usually take about two to three months after filing. Contested divorces can easily take 18 months. If you have gone through a contested divorce, and there is no appeal, your divorce will be final 30 days after the judge signs the final decree.

Ways To Keep Divorce Attorney Fees to a Minimum

There are ways to keep your divorce attorney fees down. Aim to obtain a written fee agreement when you hire a lawyer that outlines the precise financial terms of the representation. Without a written fee agreement, you could pay additional money for expenses you were not aware of at the outset.

Seeking to negotiate a settlement with your former spouse will help keep attorney fees down. Cases that go all the way to a final hearing will typically incur the highest attorney fees. If you and your spouse communicate, you may be able to agree on issues like the division of any marital property without a battle in which subpoenas go back and forth.

Reaching a settlement early on will not only keep down the cost of using an attorney but, may avert the expense of a lengthy court-ordered mediation in which you are paying an attorney by the hour.

Avoid stalling tactics like failing to turn over documents requested by your attorney and the other side. These kinds of moves only end up costing you more money in the long run, leading to increased communication with your attorney and your ex-spouse’s lawyer. During the discovery phase, make sure to turn over all documents requested to save yourself time and money.

Also, resist the temptation to treat your attorney as a therapist. Long conversations can rack up the bills. Often your attorney will advise you on how you can save money by helping prepare your case and getting documents together in a timely manner.

Although a divorce lawyer’s costs will typically make up the lion’s share of what you end up paying for the dissolution of your marriage, there is a good reason why divorcing spouses use legal professionals. There are many dangers of going it alone.

Our Baltimore family lawyers can advise you on all aspects of divorce. Please contact us today for a consultation.