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How Much Does A Divorce Lawyer Charge?

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How Much Does A Divorce Lawyer Charge?

Attorneys and Fees

South African Divorce Lawyers charge hourly rates of between R800 and R4000 per hour.

Unopposed divorces are often charged at fixed prices which varies between R10 000 and R20 000. Divorce Lawyers are not allowed to work on divorce matters on a contingency fee basis.

South African Rands ZAR

There is no one conclusive answer as to how much a Divorce Lawyer will charge for services rendered in a divorce. It is very much on a case by case basis and dependent on whether you go for a fixed fee or by the hour Divorce Attorney.

Usually, you will be charged by the hour for an opposed or contested divorce, while uncontested divorces have fixed rates.

Divorce Attorneys’ hourly rates can differ significantly and may depend on a variety of aspects such as: –

  • The Attorney’s Seniority.
  • The Attorney’s experience in related matters.
  • The number of issues that must be resolved in and out of Court. (A divorce may have various Interim Applications such as a Rule 43 Application, Domestic Violence  Application, Declaratory order Application, etcetera, before the actual Divorce Trial can start). These issues may significantly impact the cost of the divorce action.
  • The duration of the divorce.
  • Where your Attorney is based.
  • Whether your spouse is combative or collegial.

Divorce and Family Lawyers should inform you upfront what their hourly rates will be, except if they agree to handle your divorce for a set fee.

The norm in South Africa is that only unopposed or uncontested divorces are charged at a set cost.

An uncontested divorce is where the divorce is amicable, and there are no disputes whatever between the two Parties.

They have already agreed on the division of assets and liabilities. If they have children, they have decided on where they will live, how and when each parent can have the children visit, and they have agreed to the maintenance issues, etc.

Unopposed divorces are typically charged at a set fee by Attorneys, and the amounts vary between R10 000 and R20 000.

Some non-Attorneys and DIY websites advertise uncontested divorces from R1000.

It is advisable to see a Divorce Attorney before you proceed with a life-changing procedure such as a divorce, as it will have significant consequences on your estate and personal well-being.

You will also get assistance from Attorneys with the Court appearance and dealings with the Clerk and Family Advocate (if necessary). You are not left alone to struggle with the procedures that are unfamiliar to you.

If you have a significant estate or your business dealings are complex, and you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement, then it is essential to get advice from Attorneys that know and understand divorce law and have experience in dealing with complex divorces.

Understand how your Attorney will bill you.

Attorneys and Fees

The legal fees in a divorce matter can be very high, and it is essential that you understand how your Attorney will bill you.

You may not have any billing on your file for a long time, and then suddenly, you can be charged for much work at once.

It is advisable to keep your communication with your Attorney open regarding billing so that you know where you stand at all times.

Mandate and Fee Agreement

South African Rands ZAR

It is best to get a mandate and fee agreement signed between you and your Attorney as this will clarify both of your respective rights and obligations.

If your Attorney bills you at an hourly rate, make sure that you understand how and how often they will bill you.

Take the time to understand who else will be billing you for work done on your behalf. Many law firms will charge for the time spent on your matter by their Candidate Attorneys or Paralegals.

Ask your Attorney for cost estimations and what experts they would want to call so that you can be prepared for these expenses long in advance.

It is challenging for a litigation Attorney to estimate how much a divorce will cost you – if not impossible. But, you can ask them how much their day fee will be or the cost for a specific application.

The fee agreement should deal with your refund for when the case is over.

As stated above, hourly rates depend on many factors. Attorneys usually charge much lower hourly fees for work done by their Candidate Attorneys and Paralegals on the Client’s file. You can expect your Attorney to inform you which of the staff members will assist on your matter.

It is also essential to not only look at the hourly rates when you decide which Attorney to use. An experienced Attorney can generally work faster than a newly qualified Attorney who is still learning the ropes.

Divorce Law is all about strategy – make sure that your Attorney has a plan in place to limit the issues and the legal cost.

The question often arises if it is worth paying for a more expensive Attorney. After all, there is a big difference between paying R800 per hour versus R4000 per hour.

In my view, the basic principle is that you get what you pay for.

I have seen divorce matters where the Attorney did not understand and did not have the experience to know what their client is entitled to. This client settled on a small amount and lost several millions of rands in the process.

Contingency Fees and Divorce

Attorneys are not allowed to work on a contingency fee basis when dealing with divorce matters in South Africa. They are, however, allowed to work on a deferred payment plan.

Most Attorneys will only agree to work on this basis if it is clear that they will get paid at the end of the divorce, i.e., there will be enough assets left to pay them for all of the work done.

Other Expenses and Costs during divorce

You can expect an increase in your living costs when you go through a divorce, and you need to plan for this. Prepare a budget for your income and expenses.

When you are going through an acrimonious divorce, especially if it is a complicated divorce with lots of assets around the world, you can expect to use experts.

These experts are usually costly, and they may include experts such as:

  • Forensic Accountants [to determine the values of the estate(s)].
  • Industrial Psychologist (for spousal maintenance claims).
  • Investigators (to assist Attorneys in finding the assets).
  • Social Workers and Psychologists.

If you cannot afford experts, your Divorce Attorney will have to present the case without the benefit of their testimony which makes it much more difficult.

What can you do to reduce the legal fees during a divorce?

The obvious answer is to settle the matter. However, it takes two people to settle and it is never a good thing to settle a divorce just for the sake of finalisation.

We deal with many post-divorce matters where the Parties settled based on emotions or incorrect advice that they received before the divorce. It is complicated to undo a divorce settlement that was made an order of Court.

You can do the following to assist your Attorney and thereby reduce your legal cost:

  • Communicate appropriately with your Attorney; respond when they ask you for information or documents.
  • Prepare the information or documents in a proper format (ask your Attorney in what form they want the information or materials).
  • We often ask Clients for documents and receipts, and they bring a plastic bag full of receipts to us. We then must work through the receipts, sort them and file them. This is something that Clients can do themselves so that they are not billed for these tasks.
  • Do not phone your Attorney ten times a day – unless it is an emergency. Attorneys sell their time, so it will cost you that much more if you call ten times.

Instead, prepare a list of your questions and email the Attorney. Or phone them once and have your questions ready so that they can respond to your questions in one telephonic consult.

Retainer/Money in Trust

The majority of Attorneys will ask you to pay money into their trust accounts before they start working on your matter.

Once they have done work on your matter, they are entitled to bill and deduct money from your trust funds.

Attorney trust accounts are heavily regulated by the Legal Practice Council (LPC) and Attorneys and Trust Account Advocates must undergo a very expensive trust audit each year to ensure compliance with the LPC’s rules.

Attorneys that do not comply with the rules are normally taken to Court, and their names are removed from the Roll of Attorneys.

Attorneys Lien on files

In the event that a client fails to pay a divorce attorney, can may retain the files of that client until they are paid in full.

This can cause some frustrations when a client moves between attorneys as it can delay the divorce matter.

Costs Orders

Attorneys charge their own set fees, which is called Attorney and own Client fees.  If you go to Court and you win, the Court will likely make an order of costs in your favour.

This means that your spouse or partner lost their case against you and that they must pay your cost.

The cost that must be paid can be ordered on various scales.  Generally, it is called Party and Party Costs and Attorney and Client Costs.

It is good to be aware of these costs, as they can significantly influence litigation.

The Judge or the Magistrate has discretion in awarding costs.

Martin Vermaak
Practicing Attorney

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