I get this question a lot & of course the answer depends on how extensive the litigation gets. The more I have to do, the more the client gets billed. But some guidelines on the expected costs are provided below.
Contested Custody Costs
Because Family Court custody cases in NYC & Westchester can last 1-2 years, attorney’s fees may be as little as a few thousand, and as much as $25,000 or more over that period. Thus, broken down, it means an average of about $1-2,000+ per month over the life of the case. Be forewarned, however, that in some cases, there is alot more billing towards the front-end of the case (e.g., when trying to establish interim orders of access, etc.) and towards the back-end of the case (i.e., when the trial starts). Thus, while $1-2,000 per month may be an average, some cases may see billing of $5,000 or more in a month, and then other months have only a few hundred dollars billed to the account.
Contested Divorce Costs
Contested divorce cases often cost even more than contested custody cases, simply because all the potential issues between the parties are handled in 1 case. Thus, issues of custody & visitation, child support, maintenance (i.e., alimony) and equitable distribution of marital assets & debts are all done in one case. Moreover, depositions are routinely done in contested divorce cases; they are rarely done in contested Family Court custody cases. As a result, the expected fees on a contested divorce case are roughly double what one could expect to pay for a “mere” Family Court custody case. As such, one may expect to pay as little as a few thousand and as much as $50,000 or more. Indeed, I’ve handled contested cases with counsel fees as high as $100,000 or more. If the client gets in over their head financially, a number of options are available, including borrowing against assets or retirement (though this may take court permission), payment plans and/or legal financing. It should be noted that, while I do offer payment plans in some cases, I do not offer payment plans to all clients & in all cases. In sum, in a highly contested case, the client should be forewarned about expected costs and should raise any payment concerns with their lawyer as early in the process as possible.