The retainer is akin to a down payment. The retainer remains the client's money even after it is initially tendered to the attorney and is kept in a segregated client trust fund until such time as those fees are earned by the actual services provided by the attorney. For example, if the retainer was $5,000.00, and the divorce was completed for $3,000.00, the $2,000.00 difference of unused retainer would be returned to the client promptly. Many prospective clients compare the retainers between attorneys, which is really comparing apples to oranges. If anything, compare the hourly rate between the attorneys, not the retainer amount, because even whether a retainer is charged or not charged, or whether the retainer quoted was high or low should have no bearing on your final bill. In fact, in a contested case, it is more often than not that the fees exceed the initial retainer amount, in which case the retainer may need to be replenished, or the bill is typically paid on a monthly basis thereafter once the retainer is exceeded. Another retainer may be requested prior to the commencement of a trial.
Attorneys in Illinois cannot by law charge a flat fee for a divorce.
Your Spouse's Fees
In some cases, a spouse may be ordered to contribute fees towards the opponent's fees. This depends on the facts of each case. Generally, each party pays his/her own fees, but under the “Leveling the Playing Field” law, if there is a substantial disparity in the income or assets of the spouses, fees to the opponent may be awarded in whole or in part.
Third-party costs are those costs in addition to attorney's fees. In an uncontested case (i.e. a case in which all issues are agreed to by the parties early in the case), third-party costs are generally less than $500.00 (e.g. court filing fees, sheriff service of process fee, court reporter fee for transcripts; court clerk fee for certified copy of divorce decree). In a contested case (i.e. a case in which one issue or more needs a judge's ruling to resolve), third-party costs (and attorney's fees) may be substantial and depend on the facts in each case. For example, in a custody case, there may be costs for a court-appointed representative for the child, mediator, evaluator or psychologist. In a case involving a self-employed spouse, a business valuator may need to be retained. If the case involves a pension or expensive property, an actuary or appraiser may be needed for an opinion as to value. Often these costs are paid in advance by the party requesting the service, though sometimes the costs are apportioned according to the relative financial abilities of the parties. Costs (exclusive of attorney's fees) in a highly contested case may easily exceed $10,000.00 depending on the amount and type of information needed to convince a judge to rule in your favor.