How Family and Divorce Lawyers Charge Attorney Retainer Fees

By Orlando Family Law Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias

 Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2015


How Attorney Retainer Fees for Family Law Cases Are Different

A unique challenge to family law attorneys is the fees they charge. These challenges make the fees we charge different from those of other attorneys. These are the three main challenges that drive the way that family lawyers charge their retainer fees: (1) there are no simple measures of service categories, (2) family lawyers cannot charge contingency fees and (3) family lawyers have limited means to collect unpaid fees. Theses three challenges and how AAA Family Law mitigates the impact of our retainer fees on our clients are discussed below.

(1) Family Lawyers Do Not Have a Simple Measure Of Their Service Categories or Values

This principle underlies all of all of the other factors. Family lawyers do not provide services that have quantifiable values on which to base our attorney fees. We also do not have a menu of routine standard services to offer the way a typical automotive repair shop charges $19.99 for an oil change. No two divorces, paternity actions, custody disputes, relocations, appeals, etc. are the same. Some are much more complex than other and therefore, take more time. That is why the only measure we have left use for setting retainer fees is how much time we estimate that we will spend on your case.

(2) Florida  Family Lawyers Cannot Charge Contingency Fees

Over the last few decades, the general public has been bombarded with lawyer advertisements that scream “No fees unless you win!” This has led many of my potential clients to believe that I can offer them a plan for payment as a percent of their court-ordered compensation.

But the Florida Bar Association expressly prohibits family law attorneys from charging contingency fees. The policy reasons for this rule are beyond the scope of this article, but it suffices to say that contingency fees are not an option for family law attorneys. And some family law cases, such as adoptions, prenuptial agreements and some injunctions, are not about one party paying the other, while others, like divorces, may not involve any payments between ex-spouses if there is no child support or alimony involved. 

(3) Family Lawyers Have Limited Means to Collect Unpaid Retainer Fees

One factor behind attorneys’ upfront fees is the lack of leverage we have to collect from our clients. Reverting back to the mechanic comparison, family law attorneys can’t hold your car hostage (or anything else except your file) until you pay them. And the Florida Supreme Court also ruled several years ago that this state’s homestead exemption prevents any lawyer from putting a lien on a client’s home.

Theoretically, a law firm may sue a client for unpaid fees, but the amount owed usually does not justify the time and resources that are required to collect them. In the end, a family law attorney’s only safeguard against working for free is an initial retainer payment.

How AAA Family Law Mitigates the Impact of Its Retainer Fees on Our Clients

For many family law clients, how much a family lawyer retainer fee costs is beyond their means. For example, for some clients$2,000 up-front is too costly. With this in mind, we make our fees more manageable and predictable in two ways: (1) We offer payment plans in many of my cases and (2) in almost all cases, we charge a flat-fee retainer, instead of an hourly retainer. We estimate how many hours we will spend on your case based on its degree of complexity and charge an appropriate flat fee that you will know before making a payment or signing a contract. And we publish on this website the range of attorney retainer fee amounts for each type of case on the Family Lawyer Retainer Fees page. With a flat-fee retainer, my clients do not (a) have to stress about how much each phone call or e-mail will cost and (b) have to be surprised by high monthly bills that they did not expect.  

If you have any questions about our fees, or any family law matter, I encourage you to call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 and make an appointment for an initial consultation. There, I will learn about your case, explain my plan to achieve your legal objectives and quote you my lawyer retainer fee.

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