You may need a California family attorney for any number of issues such as divorce, child custody and visitation, premarital or postmarital agreements, child support or spousal support. All of these issues are already fraught with anxiety, so you don’t need uncertainty about attorney fees to add to your worries. To help you communicate with your attorney about their fee structure, we will look at some typical family law attorney fee structures.

The Ins and Outs of California Family Law Attorney Fees - An Image of a wooden family of four with a gavel on their back - Ghazi Law Group

Attorney Fees Must be Distinguished from Expenses

Attorney fees are the amount you pay to your lawyer for their services. But they are not the only thing you will need to pay. You also must pay costs and expenses that accompany family law actions. These may include

  • Court filing fees
  • Document copies
  • Expert witness fees and travel expenses
  • Costs of serving the other party or those related to subpoenas
  • Attorney travel expenses

Factors that Affect Attorney Fees

Attorney fees vary quite a bit. Here are some of the things that may affect them:

  • Area of practice: The general range of fees is going to differ between family lawyers and, say, intellectual property lawyers. Attorney fees vary according to the complexity of the area of law and what it is that you are trying to accomplish.
  • Experience and reputation: An experienced attorney is likely to charge more than one who is junior.
  • Complexity of your legal issue.
  • Litigation: If your case goes to trial, expect your attorney fees to be much higher than if you can resolve your case out of court.
  • Time: The amount your friend spent on attorney fees for her divorce has little relation to what you might spend. Attorney fees are heavily impacted by the amount of time an attorney spends on a case. Of course, this is especially true if your attorney is charging by the hour, as most attorneys do.
  • Location: Expect to pay more for an attorney in an upscale area of town than you would in other areas. Also, you will likely pay more if you are living in a part of the country with a higher cost of living. LA attorney fees are generally going to be higher than those in Columbus, Ohio. Overhead and cost of living affects attorney fees as well.

Hourly Fees Are Common

The most common way for family lawyers to charge is by the hour. Hourly fees vary dramatically according to the factors described in the last section.

Bear in mind that an experienced lawyer with a higher level of expertise often

  • Works more quickly so you are not paying for as many hours as for the junior attorney
  • Sees issues and finds solutions that a junior attorney may miss
  • Has a better record of winning cases

That said, just because an attorney charges a lot does not mean they are a good attorney. When you first meet with an attorney, don’t just talk about your case. Also ask them about their background and track record.

Attorneys in the same firm typically have a range of hourly fees according to their level of expertise. You may be assigned more than one attorney, so the hourly rates of each will differ. For example, possibly a junior attorney will do the bulk of the research, but a senior attorney will be the one reviewing the work, strategizing or represent you at trial.

Flat Fees Are for Simple Matters

A flat fee is a stated fee for a defined scope of work. An attorney may charge a flat fee for simple work where the number of hours involved can be predicted. For example, an attorney may charge a flat fee for uncontested divorce that do not involve complex issues. More complex matters do not lend themselves to a flat fee, because it’s difficult to predict how many hours they will require.

Retainer Fees Can Be Confusing

If your attorney asks for a retainer fee, ask them to explain further.

  • Businesses often pay a law firm or attorney a retainer in the form of a regular monthly amount so they are available for ongoing work or issues that may arise. This would not apply to family law.
  • Another use of the term “retainer deposit” or “initial deposit” is a fee that you pay the lawyer in advance. The attorney may use this money for costs and expenses as your case progresses. Family lawyers sometimes ask for this kind of retainer.

California Family Law Attorneys Cannot Charge on a Contingency Fee Basis

You may have heard of contingency fees where you only pay your attorney a percentage if you win a case. Contingency fees are often employed for personal injury cases, and they are sometimes used for other types of cases. However, lawyers in California (and most states) are not permitted to charge on a contingency fee for family law cases. Under Rule 1.5 of the State Bar of California

    A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect: (1) any fee in a family law matter, the payment or amount of which is contingent upon the securing of a dissolution or declaration of nullity of a marriage or upon the amount of spousal or child support, or property settlement in lieu thereof;…

You May Not Have to Pay Your Own Attorney Fees and Costs

There are many situations where you can request a judge to order the other side to pay your attorney fees and costs. You may want to discuss the probability of that with your California family law attorney at your initial consultation.

Call Ghazi Law Group for a Consultation

Ghazi law group offers an initial consultation for family law matters. This gives us an opportunity to discuss fees and costs so you never have any surprises. If you need family law representation, contact Ghazi Law at (818) 839-6644 or email us at to schedule a consultation. We are located in Sherman Oaks, California, close to Encino, Woodland Hills, Studio City and other areas of Los Angeles County.

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