By Inna G. Materese

Ask any family law attorney what clients want to know most and you'll likely hear the same answer. Clients generally have two burning questions: 

“How long will this take?" and “How much will this cost?"

You've probably asked your attorney these questions at one point or another and received a decidedly equivocal answer. To both of these questions, the honest answer is almost always, "I don't know, it depends."

Though the question sounds simple enough, the factors your attorney must consider in trying to give you a time and cost analysis are quite complex. The reason it is difficult to estimate the cost of a family law case is because much of what happens is driven by factors outside of the control of the lawyer and a client.  

It is important to keep in mind that your family law matter may involve four, five, or even six individuals - you, your ex-spouse, your attorney, his/her attorney, and perhaps even expert witnesses. The efficiently and speed with which your particular matter can be resolved depends on all of those people working with efficiency and speed.

For example, obstinate spouses and difficult or unresponsive opposing counsel can delay resolution of even simple issues and drive up fees significantly. As frustrating as it may sometime feel, the case is only as efficient as its weakest link. 

In addition, no matter how proactive your attorney may be in filing motions and meeting deadlines, the unpredictable pace of the court system can be a headache for clients. We are all familiar with TV and movie legal dramas, such as Law and Order, where an entire case is neatly wrapped up in an hour. The perception is that access to the court system is easy and swift. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Our court system can be sluggish and reactive, rather than proactive, due to the volume of cases brought to the court's attention at all times. Court schedules are quickly filled, judges are often backed up on their caseloads, and procedural tasks must be accomplished before you are able to present your case to a judge. These issues can (and do!) take time and can drive up legal fees, as well. 

Further complicating predictability, issues often arise after your case has begun that may require additional work and attention. A matter that may have seemed straightforward at first blush can become more complex based on events unforeseen at the time of the divorce filing.

For example, a medical issue may arise with a child. You or your spouse may lose your job or get a new job. You or your spouse may begin a new romantic relationship.  Either of you may need to relocate. The twists and turns your life may need to take cannot be predicted by your attorney. Predicting the length and cost of your family law matter is so difficult for your attorney because your case is ever-evolving. 

So what can you do to keep your costs down and keep your case moving?

Get information to your attorney in a  timely manner.
Your attorney will likely ask you for supporting documentation, a summary or explanation, and/or other needed information during the course of their representation of you. Ask your attorney when he or she would ideally need the requested information and provide it in a timely manner. Failing to do so may result in delays in your case and/or additional legal fees. 

Be a planner! 
Though emergencies do happen, they are few and far between. Most issues will not be deemed a true emergency in the eyes of the court. If you anticipate an issue arising in the future or may need to take a course of action in the near future, notify your attorney as soon as possible. He or she will need time to negotiate a resolution with the other side or get a hearing date

Be judicious with your communications.
We live in world of instant communication and access. While your attorney is there to address your legal needs, remember that legal fees associated with multiple communications to your attorney can add up. If you have questions, grouping several clear and concise questions in one e-mail can be more cost-effective than several emails regarding various topics throughout the day. 

Likewise, it is often hard for clients to recall exactly what his/her attorney explained regarding a legal concept or course of action during a phone call or meeting. If having something in writing would make it easier for you to thoughtfully consider an issue or response from your attorney, tell him or her so. Your attorney will be happy to send you a letter or email with his or her thoughts instead.