1. What does it mean to be a “Certified Family Law Specialist State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization?

To be certified as a family law specialist by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization an attorney must have significant and varied family law experience (i.e., a minimum number of trials, hearings, settlement agreements, etc., all within the five years prior to certification). In addition, the specialist must take qualified legal education courses on a variety of family law topics prior to certification and then take a rigorous exam. In order to remain qualified as a specialist, the attorney must continue to take continuing legal education courses specifically focused on family law.

Although the requirement for becoming a family law specialist includes knowledge about mediation and collaborative practice, the vast majority of the specialized training and experience requirements revolve around litigation. It is therefore unusual to find an attorney who is a certified specialist in family law who also has the level of training and experience in mediation and collaborative practice that we have.

2. What is meant by a “retainer?"

A retainer is a deposit of fees paid in advance. In most cases there is a relatively small “minimum fee,” paid in exchange for our agreement to represent you (generally $500). The minimum earned fee is not refundable, but the remaining deposit, and any future deposits, are refundable in the event the matter is resolved without the need to fully utilize the deposit. The amount of the deposit is determined by us after the initial consultation and will be based on our evaluation of the case and the likelihood of such immediate events as the filing of a request for temporary orders, or the need to immediately respond to discovery. We commonly ask for a retainer of $5,000 to $7,500 (although both smaller and larger retainers are sometimes called for as a result of our evaluation of the situation). We do not ask for a retainer for mediation, but payment is expected at the end of each mediation session. Although a retainer is typically requested for a collaborative process, the retainer is usually much lower because the process is significantly more predictable.

Please understand that a retainer does not represent the total fees that will be incurred nor does it even represent an estimate of the total fees. Our experience is that the cost of the entire process will usually exceed the initial deposit, sometimes by a great deal. The initial retainer is designed as a deposit to ensure payment of fees that are estimated to be incurred during the initial phase of the proceedings. When the initial deposit is nearly depleted, you should anticipate the possibility that an additional deposit will be required as it becomes clear what course the process will be taking.

3. How much will my divorce cost?

Unless we have agreed to a flat fee as discussed below, the cost of the procedure will be billed at an hourly rate. It is therefore impossible to predict with any certainty what the total cost of resolving the case will be. This is because we have no control over how either party will react to the various proposals or situations that may arise. The total time it will take to resolve the matter will therefore depend on how cooperative and reasonable both parties are. Although there are rules and procedures applicable to the court process, it is also difficult to predict what procedures the court might require in a given situation.

The most effective way of controlling the cost of your divorce is to reach an agreement with your spouse that you will proceed through mediation or collaboration. Although neither process can be described as truly “inexpensive,” mediation and the collaborative process allow you and your spouse far greater control and will provide you with much more support in your efforts to reach a reasonable solution early (and therefore less expensively). Although many people recoil at the idea of spending yet more money on a support team, especially when they can see that they will be spending such a large amount of money on their attorney. This is, however, an example of being “penny wise and pound foolish.” Utilizing a divorce coach helps you to get clear about what is important to you, thus helping you to avoid asking your attorney to pursue an issue that upon further reflection isn’t very important. A divorce coach can help you process your feelings in a healthy way, so you don’t end up processing those feelings with your attorney (who is no doubt willing to help, but without the extensive training and at a much higher cost than the coach). A neutral financial professional can help you sort out the information you will need to disclose at a much lower hourly rate than the attorney. Although these important members of your team will charge an additional fee, their work will allow the attorneys and mediators to focus on what they do best – helping you analyze your options and determine what solutions will meet both your needs and your spouse’s needs (who won’t agree to your proposals unless their basic needs are met by the proposal).

4. Is it possible to pay a Flat Fee for my divorce?

At the time of this writing, our office is actively developing a flat fee structure. Although still in development, this structure is likely to involve a flat fee for an initial month of services. At the end of that month, after the client has had an opportunity to judge the services provided by the attorney, and the attorney has had a chance to better understand the needs of the client, we will negotiate a flat fee for resolving your matter, whether that resolution is through an agreement or trial (with any possible appeal being the subject of an additional agreement). For mediation and collaborative processes, the flat fee would cover services through the signing of an agreement (by far the most likely result) or until one or both parties believe that further efforts to negotiate a solution would not be fruitful. If a flat fee is of interest to you, please do not hesitate to ask about this option.