Most matrimonial attorneys work on an hourly basis, and require an upfront retainer. Depending on the complexity of the case, the retainer can be anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. Most attorneys on Long Island work at an hourly rate of $350 to $450 per hour. At that rate, things get very expensive, very quickly if the divorce is contentious.
In 2010, the New York State Legislature amended the law to provide for a presumption that the spouse with the higher income has to pay the attorneys fees for the lower income spouse. In practice, this usually means that the court will order the spouse with the higher income to make a contribution towards the attorneys fees of the lower income spouse, but not the entire amount.
There is a trend that is slowly gathering momentum to move away from hourly billing. Flat fee or fixed fee billing gives clients predictable costs, and puts the burden on the lawyer to be efficient in the management of the litigation.