If it is going to cost you several hours of attorney time to fight over a couch, just give it to your spouse and buy a new one instead. Focus your attorney time on things that truly matter.
It is a common scenario. You have agonized over the decision to leave your marriage. You may have spent years in counseling. You may have been mulling over the decision for a long time, knowing it was right but being concerned to pull the trigger. You feel ready to divorce, but there is only one problem: how will you and your spouse afford divorce litigation? You have heard horror stories over how much it will cost. You feel trapped, and you feel as if you cannot take the steps you need because you cannot afford to end the marriage. Is there a way to legally extricate yourself from the marriage without going into debt or depleting all of your savings?
While it is true that divorce can be costly, it does not have to cost you your entire financial future. Yes, a good divorce attorney, who specializes in the area, can be expensive. Here are some helpful hints to reduce the cost of divorce and make it more affordable.
1. Consider mediation or alternative dispute resolution.
Mediation is a very popular form of resolution as a way of avoiding costly legal fees. If you think that you and your spouse can sit across the table from one another, with a mutually selected and neutral mediator, then by all means you should explore this option. Mediation can reduce litigation costs if everyone commits to the process and provides full financial disclosure, with a shared goal of coming to a resolution without the need for costly litigation. Mediation has the added bonus of avoiding the emotional expense of litigation, which can be just as taxing as the financial expense. You and your spouse can likely better achieve a post-divorce harmonious relationship by avoiding the typical mud-slinging and finger pointing that can go on in a courtroom.
Just remember that you should never attend mediation without first having a consultation with a lawyer. The mediator cannot provide legal advice and, in most places, cannot and does not represent both parties. It is an investment in the process, and not a waste of precious funds, to pay for a thorough consultation before a divorce litigation so you know how to advocate for yourself and protect your interests. You can also explore if your local court system has any free mediation services as part of the divorce process.
2. Choose attorneys wisely.
Look for a referral to an attorney from a trusted source. You may have to meet with more than one attorney until you get a feeling that you have found an honest attorney who has a true knowledge of and experience in family law. It can be tempting to find a general practioner with a lower rate – but it will cost you more in the long run to have an attorney who does not know what they are doing, either in monies you won’t receive because you were not represented properly, or in later hiring another attorney to try to fix a legal mess. Ask others who have been divorced for a referral. Accountants and financial planners are also good sources. Select an attorney who is local to the Court where you will be divorced. Not only is the attorney more likely to have a good reputation with the Court in your jurisdiction, you will pay less in attorney fees for travel time.
3. Cooperate with the attorney.
If you and your spouse do go forward with litigation, make sure you cooperate with the requests of your attorney. One of the hardest jobs of the divorce attorney can be to keep an emotional client on track. If the attorney asks you for information, be proactive and cooperative. Don’t sit back and request that the other party obtain or produce any information that you are also in control of. The less the attorney has to follow up with the client, the less you will be billed. Time will literally equal money, and as the client, you often have more control over this than you think.
4. Define your goals.
One proactive technique of counsel is to define the goals of the client shortly after the attorney-client relationship is established. You may not know what to expect out of the divorce process. The attorney should, at the outset, educate you on the issues that will be addressed in a divorce in your jurisdiction, and talk to you about what you really want to achieve. Never overlook a very important question you can, and should, ask of the attorney: how much time (which equals expense) will it cost to achieve your goals? That is not to say that an attorney can predict the cost of a litigation. As a matter of fact, if you do have an attorney who gives you a guarantee of the cost of a divorce, you should probably find someone new to represent you.
No attorney can predict the reasonableness of the other side and the extent to which they want to litigate. What I mean is that a truly good attorney will weigh with you the cost effectiveness of pursuing certain issues. You never want to throw away good money. If it is going to cost you several hours of attorney time to fight over a couch, just give it to your spouse and buy a new one instead. Focus your attorney time on things that truly matter – like the best interests of your children and valuing assets so you can divide them fairly.
5. Have your support system in place.
Having the help of a support system is crucial during a divorce for so many reasons. One of most important people in your support system might be a therapist or a trusted friend who has been through the divorce process. The reason this is so important from a financial standpoint is that you should have someone else – other than the attorney – with whom to discuss the emotional aspects of the divorce process. Don’t forget that the attorney must charge you for all time they spend on your case. The last thing you want is to keep the attorney on the phone crying over where your marriage went wrong if this has nothing to do with the outcome of your case. Often, those who are overwhelmed by their emotions can unwittingly increase their own attorney’s fees by not being able to focus on their attorney’s good advice. A good support system will help you keep your emotions in check so that you can stay focused on getting your divorce done as cost effectively as possible.
6. Explore your own motivations.
Be honest with yourself as to the reasons you will explore each costly avenue of a divorce process. Are you seeking a custody expert because you truly believe you must protect the best interests of your child? If so, then the financial investment is worth it. However, ask yourself if you are motivated by a desire to exercise control, punish your soon-to-be ex, or for revenge. Take a step back and truly explore why you will take certain actions in order to reduce the cost of divorce.