What if we have an agreement on our divorce? What is the difference between a contested and uncontested divorce?
A contested divorce is a divorce where the parties cannot reach an agreement on one or all of the issues. In a contested divorce, usually both sides hire attorneys, and there is a petition and a counter-petition filed by each party. A contested divorce usually results in a final contested hearing before a judge or in some cases, a jury, but many contested divorces get resolved at mediation without the need for a final hearing. An uncontested divorce, also known as an agreed divorce, is where the parties decide to reach an agreement on the terms of their property division, custody, and visitation. An uncontested divorce typically gets resolved when the parties reach an agreement on all of the issues in the divorce and draft and sign an agreed final decree of divorce. In an uncontested divorce, this can come about via mediation with the help of a mediator, or even an informal agreement between the parties. In this scenario, oftentimes only one party hires an attorney who drafts the agreed final decree of divorce in accordance with the agreement the parties have reached. Except for unique exceptions, in Texas, an attorney cannot represent both a husband and wife in a divorce.
What is a typical retainer for an agreed divorce?
Agreed or Uncontested Divorces $1,800 - $3,000: I can usually begin an agreed divorce for about $1,800 (which includes the first filing fee + the filing fee for the Waiver of Service). This includes the drafting and filing of the Original Petition for Divorce, drafting and filing of the Waiver of Service, and the creation of the letter and packet to send to the other party.
Why does an agreed divorce cost that much?
The reality is that most agreed divorces require some level of negotiating and back-and-forth with the other party. In my experience, most agreed divorces end up costing a little over $2,000, sometimes a lot more, sometimes a lot less. Part of the reason an agreed divorce can cost that much is because once the attorney drafts the final decree of divorce, which is the final order that divorces the parties, the other side may have multiple requests for changes. I then have to revise and resend, and so on, until everyone is agreeable to the terms. Also, typically during a divorce, there is a lot of change taking place. This means that an agreement that one party reaches today, may change tomorrow. Additionally, even in an agreed divorce, there are substantial closing documents that need to be drafted to finalize the case. Even if both parties agree on who will get the house, deeds still need to be drafted, signed, and filed with the court, to effectuate that transfer. The same goes for awarding vehicles to one party, (exchanging car titles via powers of attorney), and drafting, or paying for the drafting of an order that divides a retirement plan or 401k (known as a QDRO or Qualified Domestic Relations Order). Oftentimes, a third-party drafter is needed to draft a QDRO in more complex cases. Also, even in an agreed divorce, there is oftentimes lot of foot-dragging and delay by one party. In cases like that, the only option, even if you believe they will eventually agree to the terms of the final decree of divorce, is to pay a process server and have the party formally served with paperwork. Finally, there is a short prove-up hearing at the end of any agreed divorce that usually runs anywhere from 30 minutes - 1 hour, depending on the docket. It does not require the presence of the other party, but this hearing must be done before a judge can grant your divorce in Texas. It is the last step, and a small hearing, but it is often overlooked when quoting fees.
As lawyers, once we are hired on a case and make an appearance, we have specific legal duties and a judge will not let us withdraw from the case without good cause. This means that when a case gets more complicated, we are obligated to respond on your behalf, therefore, I try to anticipate up front what your case may cost you. In my experience, it is best to be prepared and plan to have a bit of a buffer in the event your case does get more complex or contested.