How much is too much to spend for a divorce lawyer?

What if I can’t afford a divorce lawyer? Discover the alternatives

Part of The Family Law Coach Series: Keeping Family Court, Separation and Divorce Costs Low

The cost of hiring a full-service, traditional, divorce lawyer is high. For most, it’s just too high. We get it. Divorce lawyers are awfully expensive. But the question of how much to spend is tough to answer.

Acting for yourself has risks. A recent study of Superior Court cases in Ontario showed that people acting for themselves lose 5 out of every 6 cases when the other party is represented by a lawyer. That may not be fair, but it’s true. It’s important to keep in mind that saving money by not having a lawyer can be risky, especially if the other side has a lawyer.

Paying for good advice is worth it.

Think of legal fees as an investment in yourself and your future.

There are times when you need to evaluate the value you will receive, instead of looking at the amount of money you need to spend. Not repairing a roof now will lead to greater expenses later. Not changing your oil when the warning light goes on could ruin your engine. Not hiring a lawyer or getting valuable legal advice and assistance when you need it could cost you a lot in the future.

If you’re acting for yourself and get caught paying too much in support, or you don’t receive as much as you should have, the extra cost or loss over a few years could end up costing you more than the legal advice would have at the beginning. Many of our clients stick with a bad support order for years because it’s easier than paying a lawyer to get the payment revised. Not hiring a lawyer can result in wasting, not saving money.

Say you’re acting for yourself in a simple matter and the only asset is to sell the house. The other side says they’ll buy out your interest and you agree on a fair market value. They say that if you sold at that price you’d have to deduct the mortgage, pay a penalty for paying off the mortgage early, and pay real estate commission and legal fees. They’re right. Making those deductions they say you’re entitled to $100,000 and they’ll pay you that in exchange for you transferring the title of the home to them. It sounds like a fair deal so you agree. But if you had invested in a lawyer instead of “saving legal fees”, you’d have been told that since the other side is keeping the home, you shouldn’t pay half of the mortgage penalty, real estate commission or legal fees because the other side isn’t incurring those costs. You got 50% of the wrong figure. You’ve lost several thousand dollars which is way more than the cost of a lawyer who would have been able to bargain a better price for you.

Or worse, you might be convinced to agree to a custody or access plan thinking that a judge would agree with the other side when that’s not necessarily the case.

There are two realities that need to be understood.

The first is that paying for legal advice and assistance is an investment in yourself. You’re paying money for advice and to ensure you’re getting the best deal for your situation. You’re worth it. Especially if the other side has a lawyer, you’re at risk of making a deal that sounds good but is missing something that only another lawyer would notice. The other party’s lawyer’s job is to get the best deal for their client, not you.

Too often we see cases where the client thought they were smart by saving on legal fees at the beginning and now need to spend a lot more to get things straightened out. So, finding the funds to get good legal advice early is one of the smartest things you can do.

But the second reality is that while investing in yourself makes sense, we understand that not everyone can afford it.

Here are three things you can do if you can’t afford the costs of a divorce lawyer:

  1. Search around before deciding you can’t afford a full-service lawyer

Before you decide you can’t afford to hire a full-service lawyer, check around. Set up initial consultations with 2 or 3 different lawyers. Ask your friends about the lawyers they used – and about the lawyers the other party in their matter used. Explain your situation, give the lawyer your budget, and see what they can do for you.

Something to keep in mind is that getting the lowest hourly rate doesn’t mean you’ll have the lowest total fees. A more experienced family law lawyer can usually do more in less time and be more effective, so the total cost for them could be less than the total cost of a lawyer charging a lower hourly rate.

  1. Look for unbundled or limited scope services

Look for a lawyer offering unbundled, or limited scope, services. Most lawyers want full service, full fee, clients. But there is an increasing number of lawyers across Ontario who are offering unbundled legal services, who can provide focused help and assistance.

This is where the lawyer does part of what they’d normally do, but not all of it. They can ghost write letters and Court material for you at a lower cost than hiring them to take over your case. Or you can hire them just to appear for you for a specific attendance. In addition to the lawyers affiliated with The Family law Coach you can find lawyers offering unbundled services by viewing out the Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project.

  1. Use a legal coach

Legal coaching is a relatively new service. Not all lawyers who offer unbundled or limited scope services do this. With coaching, the lawyer may help you in drafting material, but their main job is to help in working out your best strategy and to give you the assistance you need to navigate the system. A good coach will give you realistic expectations and assistance in presenting your case as effectively as possible but still leaves you in charge.

Being a good lawyer to represent someone else and being a good coach to help you represent yourself are two different things. While an unbundled service has a lawyer doing part of what they normally do for a full-service client, coaching is about helping you maintain control of your legal matter. The lawyers with The Family Law Coach provide coaching. Most self-reps using a Family Law Coach lawyer use them for coaching services. It’s an alternative option that allows clients to control how much they spend.

The bottom line

If you’re involved in a family law matter and the cost of a traditional divorce lawyer is too high, look for a lawyer offering an unbundled or limited scope service, or search for a legal coach.

At The Family Law Coach, that’s our focus. We serve clients acting for themselves on a limited scope retainer basis and provide legal assistance and coaching. But unlike traditional lawyers, our Coach lawyers provide all the services remotely by phone or video call, and email, so there’s no need to take time off work or arrange childcare to visit an office. Also, there’s no big up-front retainer. Prices are transparent, you pay only for the services you want for the duration you need.

When searching for lawyers to see who can provide the most useful service for you at a price you can afford, remember to consider The Family Law Coach, where “affordability, flexibility, and convenience meet family law”.