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How Much Does a Family Lawyer Cost? (Expensive Lawyer Vs. Budget Lawyer)

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How much does a family lawyer cost in Australia

We don’t deny that there are significant fees when using family legal services. However, law firms set different fees for their legal assistance. So, how do you decide on the best family lawyer for you? Many different considerations go into what lawyers charge.

This article will explore the differences between “expensive family lawyers” and “budget family lawyers”. You may think that the lower the family lawyer costs, the better. However, there are long-term consequences to these decisions.

How much does a family lawyer cost in Australia?

Expensive family lawyers vs budget family lawyers

There are different types of family lawyer fees. Law firms can offer a fixed fee agreement and work on an hourly rate or on a retainer. You may also cover out-of-pocket expenses, called disbursements. A lower fee may seem excellent when you’re undergoing a divorce or making property or parenting arrangements. But here are some questions to ask.

  • What experience do they have in cases similar to yours?
  • Can they handle complex property settlements?
  • Have they worked on child custody cases involving complications like jurisdictional issues?
  • Are they overly focused on litigation, or do they promote the use of alternative dispute resolution?

This can all significantly impact your experience with the legal system. Let’s break down how differently priced lawyers stack up in key criteria.

Expensive Family Lawyer vs Budget Family Lawyer

1. Experience

A family lawyer’s experience is one of the most important factors in fee setting. A family lawyer with decades of dedicated service in family law counts for a lot. They can offer clients a wealth of expertise and understanding in various family law matters. Understandably, this comes at a price. When working hourly, the most experienced family lawyers can charge $300 to $500 an hour.

On the other hand, junior family lawyers just getting into legal practice may have an average hourly rate of around $100 to $150.

Good deal, right? Not necessarily. Would you really want a family lawyer who’s still finding their feet in the profession?

Here’s how this could affect your case.

Property settlements

Let’s say you’re going through a divorce and need to divide your assets with your former spouse. The problem is that your estate is quite complex. You have real estate, rare artwork, collectibles and cryptocurrency.

Your stock portfolios contain significant positions, and you run a business with various nuances of its own. Who would you rather trust with a settlement like this?

Expensive family lawyer

An expensive family lawyer will have established relationships with various valuation specialists. These experts aren’t cheap, but their expertise is indispensable. Unique assets like one-of-a-kind artwork and sought-after collectibles are difficult to value.

It’s essential to get expert advice to ensure these items are valued appropriately. Real estate and business ventures have their own valuation challenges. An experienced family lawyer can work with a forensic accountant to handle these assets correctly.

Budget family lawyer

A budget family lawyer may not have been in the field long enough to form connections with the necessary professionals. This risks undervaluing certain assets and not securing your rightful entitlement. You also risk partnering with a family lawyer with poor negotiation skills.

Without extensive experience with property settlements, your family lawyer mightn’t be able to advocate effectively for you.

Long term consequences

An improperly valued and negotiated property settlement can negatively impact your financial future. Divorce puts many people going through a property settlement at a financial disadvantage. Getting below-average independent legal advice can severely affect their ability to move on with their lives.

It’s critical that they’re afforded their full entitlement to ensure a sustainable future.

50/50 divorce property settlement

Child custody

Child custody is sensitive. You don’t want to risk a bad parenting outcome due to poor legal representation. Parenting matters can be tricky to work out. Some cases involve jurisdiction issues when one parent travels outside Australia with their child. Some parents also can’t arrange co-parenting amicably.

If a custody case gets hostile, it must be handled delicately. Would you risk making a mistake just to save some money on your family lawyer?

Expensive family lawyer

An experienced family lawyer can handle child custody cases by protecting the children’s best interests. Any questions over jurisdiction can be answered by using the appropriate channels, which may involve the Attorney General’s office.

With extensive time spent practising family law, a family lawyer can apply to recover a child from overseas without delays. In the event that parents aren’t cooperating, a good family lawyer will push for mediation to resolve conflicts.

However, sometimes court intervention is necessary. Preparing a parenting order application should be done right the first time to avoid undue emotional harm to the children and added court fees.

Budget family lawyer

A junior family lawyer may find an international custody case difficult to handle. There are complex legal channels involved, which can be hard to navigate unless you have experience with them. This can result in unsuccessful attempts to locate and return children to their home country.

When parents conflict with each other, an inexperienced family lawyer may push for litigation because they don’t understand the importance of alternative conflict resolution.

Long term consequences

If child custody cases aren’t handled properly, it can cause long term damage to family relationships. Delays caused by mishandling difficult cases like international custody disputes can be very costly. You can spend a long time trying to resolve the case.

If a family lawyer doesn’t have the experience to understand the importance of mediation, unnecessary litigation can lead to unneeded court costs and emotional hardship.

Woman kissing daughter decorating Easter eggs


Divorces can take many forms. Ideally, married couples will apply for a divorce jointly. This eases the process for everyone, especially children. However, divorces can become acrimonious. If you’re a sole applicant for divorce, the application process must be handled correctly, or else you will face additional costs and delays.

The difference between the services a more expensive and experienced family lawyer provides versus a budget family lawyer is telling.

Expensive family lawyer

A difficult divorce can cause all kinds of problems. It’s crucial to partner with a family lawyer who understands the nuances of your situation and can help you work through it. If your spouse can’t be located, it’s more difficult to serve divorce papers, which is necessary in a sole application.

Good family lawyers can minimise delays by applying for substituted service or applying for dispensation of service. They are also better able to bring the parties to the table to settle matters through mediation and counselling.

Budget family lawyer

A less experienced family lawyer may handle your divorce for a lower fee. However, a reduced hourly rate is often justification for worse performance. If a family lawyer doesn’t show care for your situation, will they be as willing to address concerns and work as hard to find amicable solutions?

Once again, they may push for unnecessary litigation instead of mediation.

Long term consequences

Carrying the trauma of a mishandled divorce can affect divorcees for a long time. It’s not worth risking your mental and emotional health just to save on your initial legal costs. If you have to apply for a divorce by yourself, it’s best to find a family lawyer who’s motivated to have your best interests at heart.

A family lawyer who competes on the cost of their services can save you money in the short term. But you’re at higher risk of facing complications and financial and emotional difficulties in the future.

2. Communication

Communication is vital when going through a legal matter. There can be a stark difference between the communication styles of expensive family lawyers versus budget family lawyers. These differences often have future implications for clients.

What are these differences, and how can they affect you?

Expensive family lawyer

More expensive and experienced family lawyers understand the importance of making themselves available to their clients. Having multiple channels of communication open, such as email, phone or face-to-face consultations, helps keep clients informed and comfortable with the process.

Clients can increase their stress and anxiety when they don’t properly understand the legalities of their situation. A good family lawyer can reduce the jargon and explain processes in simple terms. This makes the lawyer-client relationship more empathetic. An experienced family lawyer takes the time to connect with a client and listen to their concerns.

Budget family lawyer

A budget family lawyer may be taking on many clients to compensate for their lower rate. This has a big impact on their ability to dedicate time and energy to you. If your lawyer can’t make time to communicate with you, it’s more difficult for you to have an understanding of your situation.

Without taking the time to adequately explain the situation in a simplified way, clients won’t have the confidence that their matter is being taken care of appropriately. When a family lawyer can’t dedicate as much time to a case, it’s not as easy for them to develop an empathetic connection to their client.

family law agreement

Long term consequences

Bad communication in the lawyer-client relationship can poison your legal journey at a delicate time in your life. When you don’t understand the process you’re undergoing, the stress can affect your mental and emotional health.

Parties should know exactly what is occurring in their case so they can make informed decisions for their future. Without that clarity, you can end up with unsatisfactory results.

3. Finding the right legal services

It’s crucial to think carefully about which family law firm suits you best. It’s important to look beyond the hourly rate they’re charging. There are other factors that will tell you what you’re really getting for your money.

Here are some questions to ask that can help assess them.

What experience do you have with cases similar to mine?

One of the main points you want to find out is how familiar a family lawyer is with case details that align with yours. If they have successfully resolved cases in a way that you feel would be right for you, that’s a good sign that they could benefit you.

If you find out that they only have limited experience, it’s probably best to look elsewhere for assistance.

What are your thoughts on mediation and collaborative family law?

Collaborative law involves all parties to a family law matter coming together with their family lawyers to resolve conflicts without the need for court intervention. The parties can own the process and create a personalised solution.

An experienced family lawyer should understand the importance of collaboration and alternative dispute resolution like mediation. Avoid family lawyers who downplay its importance and try to push you towards litigating issues directly.

Luke Shanahan - Principal of Shanahan Family Law

What are the likely outcomes of my case?

An expensive family lawyer with relevant experience will be able to suggest likely outcomes from handling similar issues. This can be a big help when it comes to creating a strategy. They can lay out your next steps effectively to smooth the process as much as possible.

If a family lawyer starts hedging and isn’t able to clearly set out how your case can progress, this may be a red flag. This could happen because of a lack of experience, which can result in a less optimal outcome.


Money is a factor in family law. We wouldn’t suggest it’s not something to consider. The question is, how will legal help affect your finances? Upfront costs shouldn’t dictate which law firm you work with. Saving on initial costs will often result in greater financial strain in the long term.

Invest in an experienced family lawyer with the right expertise so you can ensure your case is resolved quickly and effectively. Budget family lawyers can seem like a good option, but as with everything, you get what you paid for.

Here at Shanahan Family Law, we have fixed fees to provide transparency and predictability for our clients.

If you need help with family law matters, contact us for a free discovery call.

Are you looking for family lawyers?

Shanahan Family Law, founded in 2009, focuses on delivering positive outcomes for clients by listening, caring, and tailoring services to individual needs. Let us help you find a positive outcome.

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Luke Shanahan Family Law

Luke Shanahan


Luke Shanahan is the Principal Solicitor of Shanahan Family Law. Luke has been practising family law since 2008 and started his firm in 2014. He has three beautiful daughters and a supportive, gorgeous wife. In his spare time, Luke enjoys playing tennis and trips to the beach with family and friends. 

Luke is dedicated to providing the best possible legal representation for his clients. His experience and passion for family law set him apart from other solicitors. You only have to read their 5-star reviews to understand that.

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