Attorney Retainers and Divorce Costs

Divorce Cost

As attorneys, one question we’re often asked is, “How much is my divorce going to cost me?”

While there’s no “one-stop-shop” answer to that, we’d be lying if we didn’t acknowledge that getting divorced can be expensive. The exact amount, however, will depend on a myriad of factors, including how much property you have, if children are involved, and whether or not you have a valid prenuptial agreement. Your bottom line can also be significantly impacted by how hard you want to fight your spouse in certain areas. 

Since these situational specifics will significantly impact your numbers, we can’t tell you exactly how much your divorce will cost. We can, however, give you a breakdown of the common costs associated with divorce, to give you a better idea of what to expect. 

The Type of Divorce Matters

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In the world of marital dissolution, not all divorces are created equal. There are many different types of divorce, and for those looking to crunch numbers, the easiest way is to avoid traditional litigation altogether.

The “Do It Yourself” Divorce

From parenting plans to spousal support, couples are always free to reach their own agreements outside of court. So, when you get right down to it, the cheapest way to split is a good, old-fashioned D.I.Y. divorce. 

Without any other bells and whistles (and assuming you and your spouse are uncontested on the terms), the bare-bones cost to file a petition of divorce in Texas is about $300. And if you’re uncomfortable going it alone, certain websites also offer online divorce services for varying rates, which operate kind of like an online tax service.  

However, while these options might sound tempting, we highly recommend against any kind of D.I.Y. arrangement—and we’re not just saying that because we get paid! When flying solo in the legal arena, it’s extremely easy to accidentally give up essential rights. And despite the additional upfront costs, an experienced divorce attorney can often save you more money in the long run.


Another inexpensive option is mediation. Here, a licensed, third-party mediator sits down with the couple to help reach an agreement through respectful negotiations. Rates for mediators vary, but usually range between $100-$300 per hour, and can be done with or without an attorney present. Furthermore, everything said during mediation is confidential—whether or not you reach an agreement—and cannot be used as evidence against you later on down the road. 

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is like the more sophisticated older sister of mediation. While similar in format (involving a series of out-of-court negotiations), unlike mediation, the Texas Family Code requires that attorneys be present for both sides in a collaborative divorce. 

Because it’s hourly, there’s no guarantee collaboration will be cheaper than litigation. However, for couples who don’t waste time and make the most out of sessions, it can be. 

Attorney’s Fees and Litigation Costs

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Unfortunately, if an agreement can’t be reached outside of court, the only real option you have left is a formal trial. From retainers, to attorney rates, and other associated divorce costs, here’s how your litigation price tag might break down.

Retainers and Hourly Fees

Once hired, almost all attorneys will require you to pay a retainer. A retainer is a kind of like a savings account, which is used to pay your attorney and other divorce-related costs as they arise. 

Retainers can be anywhere from $2,500-$15,000, and having this money on hand allows your attorney to pay for litigation costs when needed, without having to notify you of every single filing fee that might come up. 

Keep in mind, however, that these funds might periodically need to be replenished, as your retainer likely won’t cover the entire cost of your divorce. 

Attorneys Work Hourly

On average, the rate for a quality divorce attorney is about $300 an hour, though it can be lower or higher, depending on experience and skill level. If money is a concern, be sure to discuss it with your attorney, so that a legal strategy can be developed with these priorities in mind. 

What Else Does My Retainer Pay For?

In addition to paying your attorneys billable hours, retainers also cover a myriad of other litigation costs. Some of these might include: 

  • Discovery—gathering documents needed to effectively argue on behalf of your interests regarding property division, child support, custody, and alimony;
  • Filing Fees—the cost of registering all complaints, motions, and requests that are entered onto record with the court;
  • Housekeeping Items—copies, long distances calls, and postage, which are not covered by some firms; 
  • Expert Witnesses—the professional review of financial advisors, appraisers, and custody evaluators; as well as, 
  • Documents to Prove Fault-Based Claims—securing necessary housing, criminal, or medical records that might support grounds for a fault-based divorce grounds.

This list is not exhaustive, and not all of them will even apply to your case. During your initial consultation, it’s a good idea to ask your attorney what their firm charges for, and how much. That way when your bill comes, there won’t be any surprises. 

Most attorneys will also send out regular statements, which include an itemized breakdown of how your retainer money was spent each month, when, by who, as well as how much money is left in your retainer account. 

What Your Attorney Doesn’t Use, You Get Back

A silver lining to the retainer system is that once the dust settles, any funds left over in your account are returned to you. Which is kind of like finding twenty bucks in the pocket of your winter coat—getting back money that always belonged to you, but a nice surprise, nonetheless.

Divorce Attorneys in Texas

The financial strain of divorce—including paying the retainer for a divorce attorney—can be extremely stressful. At North Texas Family Lawyers, we understand and sympathize with these concerns, and are committed to working with you to find a solution that fits your needs. 

If you have further questions about the potential cost of your divorce, don’t hesitate to call us at (972) 402-6367, or schedule a consultation online, to see how we can help. Because when all is said and done, the price tag of divorce should never be the thing that keeps you in a relationship you already know is over.

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