affordable divorce in Chicago

Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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Affordable Divorce Lawyer in Chicago

affordable divorce in Chicago

Divorce can be scary.  You’re ending a relationship which you committed to for life. Your children will live in two homes.  Your assets and debts will be divided.  You may have to pay support or depend on the support of someone you no longer love or even hate.  But, initially, a divorce is scary because everyone knows that divorce lawyers are expensive.  So, how do you find an affordable divorce lawyer in Chicago?

I think it’s important to first define what “affordable” means when you’re looking for an affordable divorce lawyer in Chicago.  “Affordable” shouldn’t mean an inexpensive bargain lawyer. “Affordable” should mean that the lawyer and his or her services are within your budget and that you’re getting value for your money. 

So, that being said, how do you find a lawyer who will provide you value for your money when you’re going through a change of life where your finances are in flux

The Retainer

Most divorce lawyers in Chicago, Illinois operate on a retainer system.  The divorce lawyer takes a certain amount of money to start your case and puts it into a trust account.

When the divorce lawyer issues an invoice, they withdraw money from that account to pay for their labor, their staff’s labor and the expenses accrued in the case.

The retainer is the money you are physically giving the lawyer so it feels like that is what you are actually paying the lawyer.  This is not the case.  The retainer is just an advanced fee which the divorce lawyer still has to earn. 

A divorce lawyer should be able to answer with at least some accuracy and honesty what that retainer will cover.

My retainer is $ 3000.  I have divorced over 1000 people in Chicago, Illinois and I have determined that $ 3000 is a magic number.  If both of the parties are agreed, I can get a Chicago divorce done using less than $ 3000.

If the divorce case settles without much argument, I then mail my client a small refund of what is left in their retainer and the client usually writes something very nice about me on the internet. 

If the divorce case is not agreed and the parties need to take a matter to a divorce judge for final resolution then it is almost certain that my firm’s fees will exceed the initial retainer.

I often tell my clients, “It’s unfortunate but the person who will determine your final lawyer’s fees is not you or I…it’s your spouse and how they choose to litigate this case.”

If a Chicago divorce lawyer is evasive about what a retainer will cover, I would take caution.  The average divorce is not rocket science and an experienced divorce lawyer can at least outline all of their initial steps and what that would cost.  Of course, be prepared for a lawyer’s favorite catchphrase: “it depends”

A special note of caution about divorce lawyers who charge on a flat fee basis.  A flat fee system forgoes the retainer + hourly billing system in favor of a “pay in advance” scheme. The attraction of a flat fee system is that your expenses seem to be capped. This is hardly ever truly the case.  Most flat fee arrangements merely have set prices for each particular action like a mediation, a hearing, etc. A bill still becomes due whenever one of these events occur. Every flat fee agreement is different so I would read the engagement agreement very carefully to understand how it incentivizes you and how it incentivizes your divorce lawyer.

The Hourly Rate

There are three hourly rates that should be listed in a Chicago divorce lawyer’s proposed engagement agreement: 1) The principal partner’s hourly rate, 2) Associate attorney’s hourly rate and 3) the paralegals’ hourly rate.

Each principal partner’s hourly rate should be listed individually.  I, personally, charge $ 385 dollars an hour.  I’ve been practicing family law in Chicago, Cook County, IL for almost 15 years and I am intimately familiar with Illinois’ domestic relations laws and the Cook County judicial system which implements those laws.  My individual hourly rate is typical, reasonable and worth my services.

I co-counsel every case with my friend and colleague Rahul Iyer.  Rahul charges $ 300 an hour.  Rahul has been practicing family law for 8 years in both Chicago, Illinois and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Rahul and I co-counsel cases in lieu of having a firm together because a looser business relationship works for us.  We’re very good friends and I like to say “we don’t want to get a divorce”

At any given time we have at least 4 paralegals working for us.  These paralegals charge $ 125 an hour.  Every paralegal in my firm has something special but they all have intelligence, energy and integrity.

The hourly rate of a Chicago divorce lawyer and his staff is a great insight into how affordable your Chicago divorce will be.  But, it depends on how they work the case.  A low hourly rate with hours and hours of work will still end up being a big bill.

Chicago divorce lawyers who don’t have support staff have no choice but to bill for all their time and that often includes perfunctory matters like sending out letters and organizing discovery.  An affordable divorce is going to require that a paralegal do the bulk of the work


After your retainer has been deposited into the divorce lawyer’s trust account and the divorce lawyer and his staff begin to work on your case, you should receive invoices on a monthly basis.

These invoices should be detailed. Every entry should say exactly what the divorce lawyer, the associate or the paralegal did. 

Every entry will also include the exact amount of time the divorce lawyer, associate or paralegal spent on the task.

These invoices are typically generated by practice management software designed specifically for attorneys. Every time we start a task, we start a timer on the software.  When we finish the task we stop the timer and immediately describe what we did.

The first invoice is always one of the steepest because all the initial documents for a divorce must be prepared and filed. 

The filing fees for a Cook County divorce are $ 388 for the Petition For Dissolution of Marriage and $ 251 for Respondent’s appearance.  So, an agreed divorce in Cook County has $ 639 in court fees alone. 

After you’ve received your first invoice from your Chicago divorce lawyer you’ll see exactly how that family law firm charges and whether they are truly affordable. 

If you exhaust your retainer and are unable to pay the subsequent month’s invoice, you will have to enter into some kind of payment plan with your divorce attorney or you can expect that they will withdraw from your case.

To discuss your Chicago divorce case and what it might cost, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my firm and schedule a free consultation.