You have the right to object to the amount of fees charged by your divorce attorney, but you need to do so in a timely fashion. For example, if your attorney is giving you periodic time statements, if you have a problem with the time, you really should address it once you receive it.
It is recommended that there be a written fee contract. In Illinois, there is a statement of client’s rights and responsibilities which is required to be part of the contract, part of which states, “counsel will prepare and provide the client with an itemized billing statement detailing hourly rates (and/or other criteria), time spent, tasks performed, and costs incurred on a regular basis, at least quarterly. The client should review each billing statement promptly and address any objection or error in a timely manner. The client will not be billed for time spent to explain or correct a billing statement.” So you must not be shy about this. Otherwise a court may rule you have lost your right to object. At the end of the case, you have the right to contest the fees and you have the right to a hearing with an independent lawyer of your own. This should be made clear to you at the end of the case.
If your divorce lawyer asks you to give him a judgment for the unpaid balance, this cannot be done unless you sign an affidavit acknowledging receipt of the time spent, awareness of the right to a hearing, and other rights. Obviously, if you sign such affidavit, it will be difficult for you to later claim that you were unaware of these rights. In any event, it will be hard for you as a layperson to contest the divorce attorney’s fee in court. You will need to have a new lawyer whom, of course, you will also have to pay. The client always has the right to ask the judge to look at a fee to determine if it is reasonable, even though you had agreed to it. Even if you have already paid and you believe the divorce lawyer owes you money, you can go to court to try to get it back. But you must be prompt.
Paul L. Feinstein, a Chicago sole practitioner with over 30 years of experience, concentrates his practice in family law with emphasis on divorce litigation, custody and visitation, and appeals. He can be reached at (312) 346-6392. View his Divorce Magazine profile.