Tough economic times are a vicious cycle for folks in a divorce – money problems often lead to divorce while the cost of the divorce itself pushes the divorcing spouses further apart and results in more, not less, conflict and unhappiness and leads to further financial loss.
While we can’t speak to whatever money problems you may be experiencing right now, we can offer some guidance on the cost of a divorce. In fact, one of the first questions normally asked of an attorney during an initial divorce consultation is “How much is my divorce going to cost?”
The best and most honest answer that a lawyer can give at that point is “I don’t know” because at that point he or she can’t forecast what will happen in your case. What we can say is that because cost is driven by the amount of time that your attorney will be employed for you, the longer your case goes then the more it will cost you so a simple, uncontested divorce may cost only a few thousand dollars while one which involves a custody fight might cost tens of thousands of dollars.
So, the first thing you should take away from this is that the less time your case takes from start to finish then the less expensive it will be. And since the quickest way to get your divorce done will be with an agreement with your spouse then it follows that the most cost-effective manner to get divorced is by agreement. Therefore, we think it’s always important for a lawyer to discuss and encourage settlement (which means the two sides resolve their case by mutual agreement as to what the outcome will be) with his or her client whenever possible.
As the saying goes, though, it takes two people to agree but only one to argue and if your spouse insists on arguing with you then you have two choices: to capitulate or stand your ground. While it is easy to say that it’s better to find common ground and compromise on contested issues, in practice this is often very hard to accomplish. By way of examples of cases where common ground can be very hard to find, both parents may want primary custody of the children or one spouse may want post-divorce alimony but the other spouse may tenaciously resist paying it.
What we can do is offer a few tips to help you manage the cost of your divorce case:
1. Before your first meeting with your lawyer, take time to think about what goals you want to accomplish and then share those with your lawyer. No doubt your first goal is to get divorced. A second may be to receive a fair share of your community estate. A third may be appropriate custody of and visitation with children.
2. Be proactive with your lawyer – ask him or her to share with you the many tools which might be used to conclude your case short of all-out, expensive litigation. These tools include a settlement conference, mediation, collaborative divorce, and arbitration. Open your mind to using these tools in your case, which means a willingness to be flexible in your positions and negotiating. What’s important, after all, is achieving as many of your goals as possible. How you do it can vary greatly but if you get locked in on one way then it may be very hard to reach common ground, especially if your spouse is locked in on his or her way which is very different from yours.
3. Have realistic expectations. Rarely does one side get everything he or she wants.
4. Do your homework in a timely fashion – when your attorney gives you assignments such as filling out forms and gathering documents, complete these tasks within the timeframe provided to you.
5. Minimize conflict – anytime you communicate with your spouse be brief, factual, and polite. Avoid “pushing his or her buttons” and don’t let him or her push yours. Refrain from becoming romantically involved with anyone during the pendency of your case.
6. Seek out and hire an experienced family law attorney. Experienced attorneys, particularly Board Certified attorneys, tend to charge more per hour but, as with most things, you get what you pay for and the skill and counsel you will receive is well worth it and can go a long way in reducing the time your case spends in the legal system, hence reducing your over-all costs.
Andrew J. Passons
Lewis, Passons & Darnell, P.C.