Who Pays for a Divorce in Maryland? (Usually You, Sometimes Them.)

Money talks – especially during a divorce. So who’s going to pay for this divorce, anyway?

After all, divorces can be incredibly expensive. Depending on previous agreements, you or your soon-to-be ex may be paying for all of it.

Financial dependence, prenuptial agreements, and joint bank accounts will all have a say in the matter of divorce costs and alimony. When figuring out who pays what in a divorce, you’ll consider:

Financial Considerations During Divorce

Just as every marriage is different, every divorce is different, as well. Who pays for the divorce is dependent on several factors, including:

  • Length of marriage
  • Current and immediate future financial situations
  • Reason for divorce

Income's Impact on Court Fee Distribution 

Financial statements - past, present, and future - matter in the divorce decision process.

If, for example, you’ve spent the marriage at home with your children, allowing your partner to build their career, the court may rule that your ex must pay all legal fees associated with the divorce.

If you are the family’s current breadwinner, then your financial statements may indicate that you owe your ex some form of financial support during and after the divorce.

How At-Fault Divorces May Impact Divorce Costs

If a judge decides a divorce is “at fault” – that is, that one party was primarily responsible for the marriage ending – then they may require the guilty party to pay associated divorce fees, as well as possibly punitive damages.

For example, if the plaintiff of a divorce accuses the other party of domestic abuse, then that accusation must be proven in court during the divorce proceedings.

If a judge finds that party guilty of the alleged abuse, then the resulting divorce decree will most likely be weighted in favor of the plaintiff – possibly including payment of the attorney’s fees.

After all, there would be no divorce at all if the proven behavior behind an at-fault divorce never happened!

How Paying for Divorce Lawyers Works

When meeting with lawyers to potentially represent you, do not hesitate to talk about money. It's your case, after all! You should feel confident that you have picked a good steward of your investment.

First of all, expect to pay a divorce lawyer and their Firm’s legal team of paralegals and discovery specialists by the hour, in increments of 6 or 15 minutes.

In general:

  • Lawyers charge the most, at several hundred dollars an hour. Every time you speak with a lawyer or attend a meeting with them, they'll bill for their time.
  • Paralegals and discovery specialists charge much less than their lawyers do. They often take over communications, basic administration, and some legal work in their assigned lawyers' caseload. This practice not only frees up the lawyer's time for the truly intricate and involved details of your case, but also helps keep legal costs down! (You shouldn't be paying hundreds an hour for someone to photocopy seven years' worth of texts.)
  • Your first payment will not be the final one. That's because typically divorces are not "flat fee," but rather billed hourly due to the massive time commitment and relative unknowns when a Firm first takes on the case.

When you decide to hire – or “retain” – a specific law Firm for your divorce case, you’ll need to pay what’s effectively a down payment towards legal expenses.

That down payment – also known as the “retainer fee” – must be paid before a lawyer is allowed to officially, legally, and ethically represent you.

Any action your lawyer or their Firm takes on your behalf to help win your case will then be billed from the third-party bank account that’s holding the retainer fee. That account is called the “trust,” and is set up to make sure you’re not taken advantage of.

Usually, you’ll need to keep the trust up to a certain amount in order for an independent lawyer or Firm to keep representing you. If the lawyer works more than the trust account has money, then you’ll need to make another deposit.

Keep in mind, when you’re sent a notice or "invoice" that money has been withdrawn from your trust, that means the Firm is working on your case!

Many law Firms – including ours – can offer payment plans to help keep the trust at a consistent level throughout the case. That way, you’re never at risk of losing representation.

And, at the end of your divorce, the trust sends any additional money in the account back to you, the client.

Reimbursement of Legal Fees During Divorce

There’s no way to know if a judge will decide to exact legal fees from the other party. So, you’re usually required to pay your lawyer right up until the court says your ex has to.

In that situation, your lawyer will reimburse you for the money that you’ve already paid, and instead charge your spouse for the previous work and any additional hours required to wrap up the case.

Free Legal Services for Maryland Divorces

While JC Law and many other domestic legal Firms throughout Maryland may offer free initial consultations for you to ask questions and get a sense of how a particular Firm may handle your divorce, you will need to pay the Firm their quoted retainer fee to move forward with your divorce and implement the plan hashed out during that meeting. 

However, the state of Maryland wants to protect your right to get a divorce by organizing free, or “pro bono,” legal services.

Some of these services include:

How Prenups Impact Divorce Payments

Many engaged couples create a legal agreement that outlines what would happen if their future marriage ever dissolved. This document – called a prenuptial agreement, or “prenup” – outlines how finances will be handled at the end of a marriage, among other things.

If the marriage does dissolve, then your prenuptial agreement will help keep things moving and prevent any confusion. Many prenups specifically state how a divorce will be paid for and who does the paying. By signing that agreement, you and your partner are legally obligated to abide by it.

However, if circumstances have substantially changed since the signing of the original prenup, then you or your lawyer may “file a motion” – that is, officially ask the court – to nullify the prenup.

For example, let’s say the prenup insists that you must pay all lawyer fees during a divorce. However, you’ve lost your high-paying job since signing the agreement. In that case, you may have grounds to petition the court to set aside the prenup.

Planning for the Divorce Ahead

No matter if you’re paying for a straight divorce or have to go through a lengthy contested trial, a divorce will cost you something – if not money, then time and stress.

The chances that you’ll pay less for your divorce in the long-term go up dramatically when you retain a great divorce lawyer who understands you and the result you’re seeking.

Test drive how we’d approach your divorce case – and how much a retainer might cost – by taking advantage of our free consultations. We look forward to showing you the light at the end of the long tunnel.

[CHECKLIST] If you need a family lawyer or domestic legal counsel in Maryland, learn the 8 questions you must ask before retaining.