Today, courtesy of Google, I received a link to a webpage titled something like "Free Divorce Help in San Diego", followed by an advertisement looking like an article touting a private mediator with a law degree, but apparently someone who never passed the bar examine to become a lawyer. Aside from the irony of starting by offering free help, then charging, the page contained a lot of misinformation.
As with much mediator advertising, it was peppered with misstatements about the cost of the legal process. It reported that lawyers charge "at least $500 per hour" and many charge non-refundable retainers as much as $7500, and "total fees of $100,000 are not unheard of for a divorce."
Although legal services are expensive, let's set the record straight. In San Diego, the number of competent lawyers consistently charging $500 or more per hour is probably well under a dozen. Yes, a divorce can cost $100,000 or more, but that's because the parties are unreasonable and lousy candidates for mediation in the first place - and few lawyers have done cases that have gotten that expensive.
Retainers of $7500? Again a small number of lawyers, or those where the attorney knows going in that there is going to be a large amount of work to do, or there are other issues [a lot of property to keep track of, custody disputes, prior lawyers, a particularly obnoxious attorney on the other side] - and non-refundable retainers are generally prohibited in California, so you are only going to pay for the actual work needed.
And, this person bragged that most cases are mediated for less that $5,000: Now that's still a fine fee to charge if you are a lawyer, and in my experience far more than having a competent family law lawyer mediate your divorce and process it through the courts, as long as the people are reasonable and mature. Yes, most of us charge on an hourly basis for the work, so there is no limit, but you can have it done competently for less, in most cases.
One regular warning I make here is that you need to examine the credentials of the mediator: In my mind, it is more than taking a short class in how to help people reach agreements, and knowing some basics about the law. You want accurate information about your legal rights and responsibilities and knowing the mediator's thought processes have been honed by litigation, where biases and assumptions are tested daily. A J.D. degree means the person went to law school - it does not mean or imply the person knows the law, or ever competently practiced. Masters and Bachelor degrees are meaningless in choosing a mediator.
There is no substitute for education and experience as a family law specialist with years of litigation experience. Scare tactics to draw you in should be viewed with suspicion. If you can hire a true expert for the same price, why go to someone with a good sales pitch that lures you in with a promise of free or cheap resolution of your divorce? Someone who badmouths competitors on the basis that they are educated, knowledgeable, and experienced. There are a few, money hungry lawyers, whom you can't trust, but the vast majority know what they are doing and went into the legal profession because they wanted to be able to help people.