Family Law

Can I Afford a Family Lawyer?

Relationship and family breakdown is an incredibly stressful time. There really aren’t words to describe what you might be going through, or to properly express all of the worries you are facing.

When you think about the different aspects of property division, parenting and child custody arrangements and making sure that you and your children are protected, it can feel like you are in a fog. Or in the dark.

A family and relationships lawyer can help you through this time. You probably know that you need someone on your side who understands the law, and you would prefer not to be managing this situation alone.

But your biggest worry may be whether you can afford a family lawyer.

Let’s have a look at what a family lawyer may cost

Family lawyers generally charge anywhere between $330 and $650 an hour.

As your lawyer is charging you by the hour, you need someone who is efficient – who is speedy and accurate. You don’t want someone who takes forever to type up a letter or who makes many mistakes that you then need to pay to be fixed.

Their time may include drafting and filing legal documents, writing letters to the other party, making phone calls, advising you and representing you at dispute resolution or in court. As well as this hourly fee, you will often be charged additional fees known as ‘disbursements’ (for example, for photocopying costs).

If your matter doesn’t need to go to court, it will generally be cheaper. The cost of your matter will also depend on how many different things need to be negotiated such as property, custody and child support. Another important factor is how easy your ex is to deal with whether they are cooperative in moving through the process.

What you should consider

Your lawyer should give you a costs agreement before you get started, which sets out their charges and what they include. This should outline what is covered by the hourly fee and what comes under disbursements.

Your lawyer will most likely ask for a deposit upfront when you engage them. This may be around $2000, but can vary. This amount will then come off their fees.

There is a great article by Choice which can give you the basics of legal fees. According to Choice, a lawyer should:

  • be clear about what they’ll charge you, even if it’s not a simple fixed amount;
  • offer a ‘costs agreement’ upfront; and
  • answer any questions about costs and when fees need to be paid.

Get advice by speaking to a family lawyer

The advice in this article is ridiculously broad, and is just an indication of what you are likely to face. Every legal matter is unique with its own mitigating factors that need to be considered.

The best step now may be to consult with a family and relationships lawyer to see what you could expect in your specific situation.

Get them to lay out for you what your legal matter might cost, in terms of best and worst scenarios. Ask them to be honest about the likelihood of things having to be negotiated in court, which is when things can get expensive.

It may help if you take along a trusted family member or friend with you to take notes and pick up on information that you may miss in the moment.

Also, ask them if they have payment arrangements to help you make payments in instalments if money is especially tight (and isn’t it always?). You may be eligible for Legal Aid – for example, see this advice from Victoria Legal Aid.

Once you have engaged a family lawyer, ask to be kept up with what your running costs are – get regular invoices to keep you up to date.