Divorce Lawyer Fees
To reduce the pain of going through a divorce in Singapore, it would be vital for prospective clients to understand how their divorce lawyers intend to charge them throughout the various stages of the legal proceedings. This helps clients to manage their expectations, plan their finances and avoid facing additional stress due to unanticipated legal bills.
Generally, there are two main types of fee structures offered by Singapore law firms in the divorce law industry:-
(a) Fixed Fees; and
(b) Fees calculated based on Hourly Billing.
1. Fixed Fees
Fixed fees are usually applicable only for an Uncontested Divorce. This is simply because Uncontested Divorces are easier to handle and the required processes are more foreseeable than for a Contested Divorce. For an Uncontested Divorce, the family lawyer is able to have a better idea of the amount of work that needs to be done, which is usually procedural since parties are agreeable regarding the substantive divorce and ancillary matters. In contrast, the amount of work for Contested Divorces depends on the negotiations and interchanges between parties and the actions taken by the other side.
Therefore, with increased foreseeability comes greater affordability. Fixed fees are usually considered the most affordable fee structure for clients seeking to hire a divorce lawyer. Several firms offer a specific fixed fee once they determine that a client’s divorce will be sufficiently uncomplicated.
For a case to be considered an Uncontested Divorce (to qualify for fixed fees), not only must parties agree to divorce but they should also agree on other important issues including the ground of divorce, division of matrimonial assets, matters relating to any children of the marriage (custody, care and control, access) and maintenance.
Assuming your case qualifies for a fixed fee structure, you must then ensure that you are clear about what the fixed fee sum covers. For example, the fixed fee is usually nett and it includes filing fees, court fees, commissioning fees, bankruptcy search fees, photocopying and stationery fees and of course the legal fees.
Typically, the legal work done for a fixed fee arrangement is straightforward. Since parties are agreeable on all major issues, the lawyer needs only to draft the relevant court papers such as the Writ of Divorce, Statement of Claim and Statement of Particulars. The fixed fee would also include consultation fees for the time spent by the family lawyer when meeting the client to gather information about the case.
Note that where additional documents need to be filed in court, such as the Proposed Parenting Plan and the Proposed Property Plan when children and property are involved, the fixed fee sum may be higher than for divorces that do not involve children and property. Also note that extra work that needs to be done by the lawyer, such as communicating with HDB or other authorities (eg. CPF), may be separately chargeable.
Parties who initially perceived their divorce to be Uncontested may later discover that they cannot agree about the exact details of how to manage their property or their children. In such cases, the engaged divorce lawyer may need to mediate and help the parties reach an acceptable solution. These informal mediation services rendered by the divorce lawyer may also be chargeable as a form of consultation fee. However, where parties are unable to reach a satisfactory agreement even with the help of a divorce lawyer, it would be difficult for the fixed fee arrangement to continue because there would be areas of contention. Parties would then need to prepare their own submissions to court with the help of their lawyers and proceed via the contested divorce route.
2. Hourly Billing Fees
Fixed fees are typically unavailable for cases where parties cannot agree on specific matters related to their divorce, or where the divorce involves complex issues and international elements.
For these type of cases, the first consultation is sometimes free or capped at a certain price. Following the first consultation, the law firm would open a file if you decide to engage them. They would then proceed to bill you hourly for the time spent on consultation, research, drafting court documents, negotiating with the other side and appearing in court. Depending on the experience and expertise of the lawyer that is carrying out the required work, the hourly rate for billing is different. Generally, the range lies within a couple hundred per hour.
Apart from just the hourly billing for legal fees, the law firm would also bill to your case file any sum that is spent for the purposes of handling your case. For example, there would be filing fees, court fees, commissioning fees, bankruptcy search fees, photocopying and stationery fees as well as transport fees.