Contested divorces are the costliest in Missouri and elsewhere. Most attorneys require a retainer fee before beginning a contentious divorce battle. This is a deposit you make with the firm; your lawyer then bills his time and his staff’s time against it. In Missouri, an attorney may charge anywhere from $500 up to $25,000 as a retainer. The average retainer fee in Missouri is about $3,500, and lawyers bill against that at an average hourly rate of $200, according to DivorceSupport.com. The amount of your retainer will depend on how complicated your divorce is and what you’re fighting over. If you’re haggling over the family business rather than the family home, an attorney will usually require that you put more money down.
Other Contested Divorce Costs
You’ll most likely have to pay for more than your attorney’s fees when you engage in a contested divorce; you’ll need the input of other professionals as well. If custody is an issue, a custody evaluation can cost several thousand additional dollars in Missouri. If your divorce requires valuing real estate, appraiser’s fees in the state average between $200 and $300 for each property.
If your divorce is uncontested, it will cost you significantly less. Some Missouri lawyers will charge you a flat fee in this case, rather than bill their time against retainer fees. These flat fees average about $500, but might exceed that figure if you have children. An uncontested divorce can also cost a bit more if you live in a Missouri county that requires your attorney to appear in court to finalize your matter. However, courts in 45 Missouri counties allow you to divorce by affidavit, a written submission to the court.
Filing and Service Fees
Whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, most lawyers require that you pay your court costs separately from your attorney’s fees. These include filing fees and expenses associated with serving your spouse with a copy of your divorce petition. Missouri’s filing fees average about $163 but can be more depending on where you live. In St. Louis County, they are $225 at the time of publication. Sheriffs' fees for serving your spouse are about $25, and that can more than double if you don’t know where he is and must serve him by publication.
Missouri’s statutes include provisions for one spouse paying the other’s legal fees in situations where his income is significantly more. Section 452.355.1 of the Missouri code gives a judge the ability to order payment of counsel fees if he feels a particular case warrants it. Missouri also has a relatively extensive legal aid network. You might qualify for free representation if your income falls below the federal poverty level. If you don’t quite qualify for free legal aid, some private practice attorneys might be willing to work with you regarding fees, according to US Attorney Legal Services.