What Should You Do If You Have a Fee Dispute with Your Divorce Attorney?

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Divorce can be expensive especially if you and your spouse cannot agree on important issues. The more disputes you have, the longer your case will take to be resolved and the higher your legal bills. While you probably will be unhappy with any large bill, generally, good communication between attorneys and clients is the key to minimizing expenses and avoiding a fee dispute with your divorce attorney.

It is important to talk with your attorney about fees the first time you meet so you understand what to expect in terms of the cost of litigation. You should also discuss your main concerns and objectives in your divorce. What issues are negotiable and dealbreakers? This information helps your attorney develop a strategy to get the results you want. Your attorney should also give you an honest assessment of your chances and the cost of pursuing litigation versus settling.

The conversation about fees shouldn’t just happen once when you hire an attorney. It is also crucial to stay apprised of your attorney’s billable time as the case continues. If you have questions or concerns, bring them up with your attorney as soon as possible. This way you can clear up any misunderstandings or address problems with how they are handling the case before bills get out of hand.

If you do have issues with the attorney’s fees that cannot be resolved through discussions, you have several options.

  1. Fee dispute arbitration. New York law provides that where attorneys and clients have a fee dispute between $1000 and $50,000, they can seek arbitration to resolve the matter.
  2. File a motion during divorce action. While the divorce is proceeding, you can file a motion with the court if you believe the attorney’s fees are excessive. The judge will schedule a hearing to decide the matter. Note that the burden of proof is on the attorney to prove his or her fees.
  3. Fire the attorney and wait to be sued for the fees. Your former attorney will likely bring an action to recover fees after being dismissed. At that point, you may be able to defend against the lawsuit on various grounds depending on the circumstances (e.g., malpractice, excessive fees, etc.).

Don’t be afraid to discuss fees with your attorney. If your attorney doesn’t answer your questions, then you should be concerned and consult another attorney. While it may just be a misunderstanding, there are some attorneys who will unjustifiably run up a legal bill.

If you are considering divorce or you are in the middle of a divorce and concerned about a fee dispute with your divorce attorney, contact us for a consultation to learn how we can help.

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