A North Carolina Divorce Can Be Expensive. Is it Financially Realistic for You?

Statistics suggest that divorce rates in both North Carolina and the United States as a whole have dropped since 1990. While there may be a number of possible explanations for this trend, many authorities suggest that the dreary economic conditions in recent years may be a key factor.

Most people understand that, after a divorce, their standard of living is likely to decline. Why? At least in the short term, the people who make up the former family will earn the same income but pay to support two separate households. If one of the spouses is the primary wage earner, then much of his income may be diverted to the other household through child or spousal support payments. Two families cannot live as cheaply as one.

What many of our clients have not budgeted for, however, is the cost of the divorce itself. Filing fees for divorce in North Carolina are quite reasonable, but legal representation is not free. If both spouses have hired North Carolina matrimonial lawyers, the total expense can represent a hefty chunk of marital property. Can you really afford that?

Why do lawyers cost so much?

Divorce lawyers appear to cost a lot because you’re largely paying in advance.

When you sign a contract to hire your North Carolina divorce lawyer, he will generally require you to pay a retainer—a deposit in advance for his services. Each legal firm has its own policy about retainers, but you can expect that $1,000 is about the minimum retainer amount.

The lawyer’s work on your case is charged against the retainer until it is reduced to zero. An ethical lawyer will give you a written copy of his fee schedule, so you will understand exactly what services you’re paying for.

You should be aware that the attorney will probably charge your account for a quarter-hour of work any time you contact him, so a simple telephone call to check on your case’s progress can cost you a couple hundred dollars. On the other hand, any progress you make before you contact an attorney will save you money on legal expenses overall. If you can negotiate with your spouse to agree on alimony, child support, division of marital property and debt, or child custody, then your lawyer will not need to handle those issues.

If your attorney hasn’t used up your whole retainer, then any credit you have will be returned to you after your case concludes.

Some clients request their lawyers to work under a contingency fee, so the lawyer will receive a portion of the family wealth when the divorce is finalized. Contingency fees are considered unethical in family law practice. You should not work with a divorce lawyer in North Carolina who asks for or accepts a contingency fee.

When divorce is a bargain

Of course, if your married life is intolerable, you absolutely must get out of that situation. Any marriage where there is ongoing domestic abuse (or even serious risk of abuse) is an immediate risk to your well-being. Don’t wait for a divorce; leave the house immediately. Stay at a shelter or at a friend’s house.

Many of our divorce clients find that getting out of an unhappy marriage is worth temporary instability in family finances. They are willing to accumulate credit card debt, borrow money from their parents, sell their wedding ring, or even dip into savings or retirement funds. Much depends on how comfortable you will be with making tradeoffs of that nature.

We know of some women whose husbands maintained iron control over household finances. They were given only enough money to shop for necessities and forbidden to own a credit card. In some cases, their husbands emptied the joint bank account so the wife was totally dependent on him. Even then, there are options if you are in this position:

  • Contact your local bar association or legal aid society to find out which lawyers volunteer to perform work without charge for indigent clients.
  • You can contact the law firm you prefer and ask for financial counseling advice, or find out what sort of payment plan is available. Under some circumstances, your spouse may be responsible for paying your attorney’s legal fees.
  • If no alternative is available, you can file a legal request for spousal support on your own. If the court grants your petition, you will have a source of income that allows you to hire a lawyer for your divorce.

Talk with your lawyer about your financial concerns

At Speaks Law Firm in Wilmington, our New Hanover County divorce attorneys understand the financial limits many of our clients face. We welcome a frank discussion of your financial condition at the outset, and we will work with you to explore options so we can give you the legal representation you desire.

Call us today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233. The Speaks Law Firm represents clients in divorce actions throughout the Wilmington, North Carolina area, including Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Murraysville, Ogden, Myrtle Grove, Delco, and Hampstead.