A divorce is a legal action that touches on very private matters but plays out in a very public way. The dissolution of a marriage can become a very contentious, difficult and unpredictable matter, one which often involves strong outpourings of sadness or grief, resentment and anger expressed as hostility and, for some, outright denial that life as they knew it has ceased to exist.
Add to the emotional component the fact that the dissolution of a marriage impacts the financial circumstances of both spouses and, if children are involved, is likely to forever impact relationships among family members, and it becomes easy to understand how a divorce can become a drawn out and very unpleasant matter.
Should I have a lawyer?
If you or your spouse are contemplating getting a divorce, the question you will need to answer is whether you should hire a divorce attorney. You may represent yourself if you wish. Many people do so in hopes of saving money, and there is no legal requirement that you have a lawyer. However, you’re not likely to find anyone who would recommend that course of action.
A divorce in New Jersey costs money. Many factors will impact how much you spend in legal fees. While it’s virtually impossible to estimate your legal costs with any degree of certainty without meeting face to face with a New Jersey divorce lawyer, it is possible to assess what the divorce cost in NJ might ultimately be for you by considering the following:
- Will addressing financial and child custody matters be collaborative or confrontational? This is, as the saying goes, where the rubber meets the road. If you and your spouse are capable of working together to resolve issues such as alimony and child support obligations, child custody and visitation rights and how to cover extraordinary expenses, you may be able to negotiate a flat fee with your divorce lawyer (if he or she is convinced things aren’t likely to go off the rails once the proceedings start).
- If your divorce is one of those rare occasions where both parties have no interest in making things difficult for the other and things like support and custody have been agreed to, you may wish to proceed with mediation or binding arbitration rather than go through the formal legal process. Your legal fees may be quite a bit lower.
What factors into the cost of a divorce?
The cost of a divorce in New Jersey can be affected by many other factors as well. You may be able to minimize some of the costs yourself. It isn’t possible to know with certainty how much your divorce is going to cost, but looking at the following can help you come up with an estimate of what the total amount might be:
Dissolution filing fees
These are are set by statute. They include:
- Complaints for Divorce – $300
- An additional fee of $25 for the Parent Education Registration is required if child support, visitation or custody is asked for in the complaint.
- Appearance, Answer or Answer & Counterclaim – $175
- An additional fee of $25 for the Parent Education Registration is required if child support, visitation or custody is asked for in the answer.
- The Parent Education Registration fee does not have to be paid if there is an active Domestic Violence Restraining Order between the parties.
- Motions, Cross-Motions & Orders to Show Cause – $50
- Copies of Orders or Final Judgments – There is an additional $15 fee (per copy) for a Certified copy with a raised seal.
- Exemplified Copies of Orders or Final Judgments – $50 fee (per copy) applies.
Hourly rate. Needless to say, the more per hour a lawyer charges, the more you’ll be paying. When interviewing prospective lawyers, be sure to discuss in detail what the hourly rate will be. Ask what he or she thinks of your case and how much work is anticipated. Be aware that the lawyer is in no position to give you anything other than a rough estimate but even that should give you an idea about what your divorce is going to cost you.
Attorneys fees are governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct which requires that a lawyer’s fee be reasonable. Factors to be considered include:
- Time and labor involved. The time and labor involved depends in part on whether the filing is a No fault or fault grounds for divorce. While the grounds for a divorce is generally irrelevant to the court, the reason may influence the final divorce order regarding parental issues.
- Difficulty of the case. One of the reasons for hiring competent legal counsel is to help you identify important issues and plan how to address them throughout the proceedings.
- Perhaps there will be a dispute over financial holdings of the parties or the ownership of personal property such as motor vehicles or valuable artwork.
- Likelihood that acceptance of the case will preclude other employment for the lawyer.
- The reasonableness of divorce cost in NJ is also measured by the fee customarily charged in the locality for the same type of matter.
- Whether the client or circumstances have imposed unnecessary time limitations which can increase the amount of work required.
Court ordered legal fees
Regardless of what the final tab turns out to be, there are instances in which the court may order one party to pay for some or all of the legal fees of the other party. This usually occurs in one of two situations:
- The financial circumstances of the parties including inability of one to pay their own fees.
- The reasonableness and good faith of the parties in the matter. Bad faith by one party such as bringing frivolous motions which needlessly delays court proceedings or violating a court order can be used by the court to award legal fees to the other party.
Although perhaps easier said than done, keeping divorce cost in NJ as low as possible requires you to work with your spouse to agree on issues as much as possible. Doing so will reduce the amount of time required by your lawyer to prepare for and appear in court. As is the case in most legal matters, the less court time for a divorce, the better for all involved.