A common question that family lawyers are asked is “what is this divorce or separation going to cost me?” This is an important question and the short answer is: it depends. Separating spouses who can amicably settle matters of parenting, support, and property division, are often able to obtain a formal separation agreement for a reasonable price (depending on the complexity of the assets and debts involved). On the other hand, if disagreements escalate to the level of requiring “litigation”, which is the process of obtaining some form of intervention from a court, legal representation can quickly become expensive. In many cases families are able to avoid needless legal complication, and more effectively manage their legal costs when they obtain competent legal advice early in the separation process.
The cost of retaining a family lawyer depends on the lawyer’s years of experience, additional or specialized training or education, geographical location, and law firm practices. Costs also depends on the complexity and degree of conflict, involvement of expert reports and witnesses, and whether a family law matter is expected to go to trial.
On average, the initial retainer for a family lawyer ranges from $3,000 to $7,000. A retainer is a deposit that a lawyer draws from time to time as they bill you for their work, usually on an hourly basis. Family lawyers charge hourly rates ranging on average from $225 to $500 per hour. In large cities like Toronto or Vancouver, family lawyers can cost upwards of $1,000 per hour.
Family lawyers typically charge their hourly rate in 0.1 hr increments for all work and time spent on a client’s family law file, including emails, letters, telephone calls, and meetings with clients, opposing counsel or opposing parties, third party professionals, witnesses and other relevant persons to the matter. Family lawyers charge for preparation and execution of court documents and agreements. Family lawyers charge for time spent researching and preparing for court and the time spent advocating for clients in court.
According to the Legal Fees Survey 2021 conducted by Canadian Lawyer Magazine, it costs on average $4,000 to $7,000 for one day in court, which includes the drafting of court materials and preparation leading up to the actual time spent in court. Further, the average cost of a two day family law trial is $19,087, and the average cost of a five-day family law trial is $43,481.
Some family lawyers offer flat rate fees for uncontested divorce applications, simple cohabitation agreements, marriage (prenuptial) agreements, and separation agreements. The average cost of an uncontested divorce application involving no children ranges from $1,300 to $1,800 plus disbursements. The average cost of an uncontested divorce application with children ranges from $1,800 to $2,100 plus disbursements.
Depending on complexity and presence and/or consideration of children, the cost of a cohabitation or marriage (prenuptial) agreement ranges from $2,500 to $3,700. The cost of a separation agreement involving children ranges from $4,000 to $19,000, or if there are no children, ranges from $2,000 to $5,000.
How to keep family lawyer costs down?
The cost of a family lawyer is variable and depends on many factors, some within your control and some that are out of your control. The most expensive way to resolve family law issues is through litigation and the court system. Litigants can help manage the overall cost of a family lawyer by following legal advice and avoiding unnecessary legal complications, reducing conflict, and trying to resolve as many family law issues outside of the court process as is possible, which may be through negotiation, four-way meetings, mediation and/or arbitration.
Litigants can further help manage the cost of a family lawyer by providing their lawyer with clear instructions and organized documents as required, being proactive and involved in the family law process, ensuring email and telephone communication is purposeful and precise, and requests are answered promptly and fulsomely.
To schedule a consultation and learn more about this or other family law issues, please contact us.
By Jennifer A. Badio
Jennifer is a passionate advocate for families and children, and brings tenacity, aptitude, and kindness to each client. Jennifer has a keen interest in family wellness, protecting children from conflict, social justice and human rights. Jennifer studied political science and international development at McGill University before completing her juris doctor at the University of Toronto in 2019.