After much arguing, soul-searching, tears, and anguish, my husband and I have decided that we need to go forward with a divorce. Now that we’ve made the decision, though, we’ve begun to speak to our friends about how much this process costs. Wow! It can get expensive! What can I do to keep the costs down?
A wise attorney I know once asked a client this important question: “Do you want to spend your money sending your kids to college or your lawyer’s kids to college?” Divorces can be very expensive, but you have many opportunities to make decisions that will preserve your precious financial resources and, hopefully, leave the money in place for your children or for yourselves.
Here are a few things to think about:
When choosing an attorney, decide what kind of divorce you want. Do you want to settle or to fight for the sake of fighting? Do you want an attorney whose desire to win is more important than your best interests and those of your children?
- Your attorney should be an agent of reality. The courts won’t always give you what you want or what you think is fair and a good lawyer can keep you grounded in realistic expectations.
- Hourly rates and retainers do not tell the whole story. The attorney’s competence and whether the attorney can delegate less complicated work to a professional billing at a lower rate is just as important.
- Expect your attorney to gather information and discuss settlement. There is always time for a trial. If your attorney will not discuss settlement after gathering all the information, there is problem.
- Know the risk of trial. There is always great uncertainty and expense at trial and you may need to accept less in settlement than what you might like in a perfect world.
- Consider mediation. Many couples are able to negotiate the terms of their settlements with the help of a neutral third party. Your lawyers can still weigh in with advice but they will have less to do and you will end up with a smaller bill.
- Be cooperative when documents are requested. Most documents can be obtained by the other side anyway and subpoenas can be expensive. Give your lawyer all of the relevant documents that are in your control so the lawyers on both sides don’t have to charge their clients to get them.
- Don’t play “hide the ball” with assets, property, and debts.
- Don’t use the children as weapons.
- Don’t do things that may create emotional havoc with your spouse. This process is expensive and painful enough without adding outside variables.
- Get professional help to deal with the emotional issues of divorce instead of using your attorney as a psychologist. However, tell your attorney about your therapy and how it may affect your case including how you are able to deal with issues pertaining to your case.
- Don’t make any major financial moves without discussing them with your attorney first.
If you trust your attorney and heed by their advice, you may be able to save money, improve the outcome, and make your post-divorce life a more enjoyable one.