Make no mistake – divorce can be expensive. In a perfect world, spouses would agree on how to fairly divide marital assets. Ideally, parents could share the same mindset on where the children should live and how parents will share visitation. There are some people who choose to handle their divorce or custody matter on their own, without an attorney. This is common where the issues giving rise to the legal matter are uncontested or are relatively uncomplicated. For those of us who dread the prospect of having to navigate the legal matter on our own, we are going to depend on an attorney to guide and represent us. This is where the expense of the divorce case will come from. A good attorney will advocate and argue on your behalf. An even better attorney will manage your expectations and estimate ahead of time, for your benefit, how much the various steps that are taken throughout the legal proceeding will cost. These costs involve not only courtroom attendance and drafting of pleadings, but also communicating with the opposing counsel, and communicating with you. There are ways that you can reduce your legal fees, and hopefully keep the expense of your divorce case at a manageable level.
This issue opens with 4 Ways You're Making Your Divorce More Expensive, followed by Four Behaviors to Avoid to Reduce Divorce Costs and concludes with Seven Ways to Reduce the Cost of Your Divorce.
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4 Ways You're Making Your Divorce More Expensive
For a more affordable divorce, consider these ways to reduce costs.
By Geoff Williams - June 20, 2022
Just like weddings, divorces can be costly. Depending on a number of factors, including attorney fees, moving costs and more, you can easily spend $15,000, but you may be able to spend a couple thousand or less.
If you are looking to minimize costs, it's important that you and your spouse try to get along – and that before you hire a divorce lawyer or a mediator, you get estimates on what the costs will likely be.
"Generally, couples make their divorce more costly by fighting. If couples can agree on issues, then the cost of a divorce is minimal," says Gabriel Cheong, an attorney and the owner of Infinity Law Group in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Here are some ways you could be making divorce more expensive, along with how to cut costs.
You Hire Professionals Before Trying to Work Things Out
Before you hire an attorney or mediator, try to discuss how you want your post-marriage life to look, and see if you and your soon-to-be-ex partner are in agreement. If you two genuinely like each other – you just don't love each other in the way that two partners should – you might be able to work everything out, mostly on your own. You'll still want to each have an attorney look over your divorce paperwork, but this path can reduce your overall costs significantly.
Cheong suggests discussing these topics:
- Property. Talk about how you want to split bank accounts, retirement assets and your home.
- Health insurance. Think through your health insurance options. "Is everyone getting their own health insurance or is one spouse staying on another spouse's plan? If there are children, who's covering the children and how to divide up the cost?"
- Alimony and child support. This is where things can fall apart, fast. "If there are children, when will the children be with mom, and when will the children be with dad? The term 'custody' is very loaded and often elicits defensive responses," Cheong says. "Try to talk about it in terms of a schedule, so everyone knows who's with who and when."
- Taxes. Discuss tax filing status and other tax issues. "Will everyone be filing taxes jointly this year?" Cheong asks. "Who will take the tax deduction for children?"
Cheong adds: "Those are the main issues, although most couples have issues with dividing assets and parenting times," he says. "The more they disagree and the harder they fight, the more expensive the process gets."
You could also consider hiring a mediator to help you and your spouse work out a divorce agreement. You can still expect to spend a few hundred dollars, and maybe more, for a session. As noted, there is no such thing as a cheap divorce. But every mediator will insist that they are less costly than an attorney.
You Have Your Attorney on Speed Dial
According to Divorcenet.com, published by the legal website Nolo.com, a typical divorce with attorneys involved costs $7,000. A typical do-it-yourself divorce without attorneys costs $300.
That reality is that you’re probably going to need an attorney for a divorce, and you probably will spend more than $300 on your divorce. But those numbers should inspire you to not put your attorney on speed dial.
Even some divorce attorneys will tell you not to overdo it.
"I am always happy to talk to my clients about their case, but like most attorneys, I charge by the hour. The more frequently you talk to your attorney, the more expensive your bill will get," says Brent Morgan, an attorney in Midland, Texas, who owns the Morgan Law Office with his wife, Piper, who is also a lawyer. About 40% of his caseload is family law and divorces, he says.
"Clients get the impression I am there to listen to every single thing their spouse has ever done wrong in a marriage. They will find a sympathetic ear but a hefty bill," Morgan says.
In fact, you may want to speak with the attorney's staff, not the attorney. "While any attorney is happy to answer questions for their clients, and some questions require the legal expertise only an attorney can provide, too often people going through a divorce will ask their attorneys basic questions a trained paralegal or assistant can answer," Morgan says. "The attorney's staff can answer a lot of your questions – or listen to you complain about your spouse – at either a much lower rate or for free."
You Go Straight to Court
While things are finally getting back to normal, they are not completely normal.
Courts around the country are still backlogged from the pandemic, "sometimes by a year or more," Cheong says. "It's now more important than ever to try to work with your spouse to resolve issues outside of court because courts are even slower than they were before.”
But even if courts weren’t backlogged, you want to avoid the courtroom unless you enjoy spending money.
Consider alternatives first. “Many courts encourage alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation, collaborative law, or simply having good attorneys that are resolution-focused rather than litigation-focused,” Cheong says.
Factors That Determine a Divorce's Overall Cost
There are more factors than you might think, according to Rubenstein. She says some of the costs you may pay beyond an attorney include:
Other divorce-related professionals. You may need to pay accountants and therapists. "For therapy, the cost may be higher considering children's need for therapy as well," Rubenstein says.
Moving costs. Somebody's probably moving out of the home. You or your soon-to-be ex will probably need to buy some basic furniture and home goods.
Refinancing home and auto loans. Assets and debts held jointly often must be transferred to the spouse's individual names, Rubenstein stays, and there are expenses associated with refinancing and transferring titles.
Insurance. You'll going to be paying for car insurance and health insurance on your own. Plan for that as early as possible.
Cellphone. You or your ex will probably switch from the family plan to an individual plan.
Court fees. Set aside at least several hundred dollars for court fees."The initial filing fee in California is $435, and there are additional filing fees for motions, administrative fees, process serving fees and messenger service fees," Rubenstein says. "In a case that is heavily litigated, these costs can add up very quickly."
Can a Divorce Be Cheap?
It isn't likely, but your divorce might only cost several hundred dollars if the stars align. For instance, you may have a cheap divorce if:
- You and your spouse don’t have children. Your divorce still may be incredibly painful, but you’ll have much less to argue about. You may bicker over who gets the pets, but there won't be a debate about child support.
- You don't have children, and you have similar salaries. When you split up, no one feels like they went from having a lot of money to not having much. Suddenly, alimony may not be an issue for either of you.
- All of the above, and you use attorneys minimally. And if you genuinely like each other, you probably won't fight over much. When you argue, especially if you both feel strongly about certain things, you’ll likely spend more money.
Ways to Reduce the Cost of Divorce
To review, remember the following to reduce the cost of a divorce:
Use lawyers as little as possible. But do use them for the important stuff.
Be organized. Don't miss dates. Provide paperwork in a timely manner.
Work with your spouse as much as possible. Especially if you have kids, you are going to be in each other's lives for a long time. The nicer you are to each other, the more likely it is that you'll both save money.
Listen to your attorney. This is very important, Rubenstein says. Don't be your worst enemy and sabotage your divorce. "When your attorney is telling you directly to do something or not, remember that you are paying good money for this advice for good reason," Rubenstein says.
Avoid court if you can. If you really want to save money, don't go to trial. Divorce is enough of a trial as it is.
Four Behaviors to Avoid to Reduce Divorce Costs
The overall cost of your divorce can be impacted by several behaviors you may be able to control. When a marriage dissolves there are several important topics that need to be addressed and sorted out, such as child custody, visitation, division of property, and support. Recognizing the following four behaviors and how to manage them ahead of time may be able to help your divorce lawyer properly gather the information he or she needs to put your case together and can reduce your divorce costs at the same time:
- Having unclear objectives
- Being overly enmeshed in your case
- Using your lawyer as a therapist
- Expecting justice in the courts
Having unclear objectives
One of the biggest mistakes you can make at the outset of your divorce is to not know what you hope to accomplish. Before you begin filing or responding to divorce motions, you would be wise to discuss your goals, objectives, and what results you can likely expect with your divorce lawyer. Having such a discussion with your divorce lawyer can help reduce the chances of unnecessary litigation, and can help you understand what you can likely expect through your divorce and what the costs might be.
Being overly enmeshed in your case
Divorce typically deals with topics that bring about high emotions and intensity, which may result in a spouse becoming overly indulged or enmeshed in his or her case. When this happens, it is not uncommon for a spouse to supply large amounts of irrelevant research material to his or her divorce lawyer, which can drive up the costs of attorney's fees. Additionally, a spouse that is enmeshed in the case may begin micromanaging the divorce lawyer's work, which can create more work for the lawyer and can be counter-productive. Setting clear objectives and goals and knowing what to expect from your divorce lawyer in advance can help reduce the tendency to become overly enmeshed in your case.
Using your lawyer as a therapist
Due to the high emotions that typically go along with divorce, it is not uncommon for spouses to begin venting or discussing problems they had in their marriage or how they feel about the other spouse with their divorce lawyer. Many times, these types of discussions are strictly emotional, add no value to the client's case, and are discussions better suited for a therapist. Divorce lawyers are typically concerned with facts, not feelings. Additionally, the time a spouse spends in these types of emotional communications with his or her divorce lawyer can increase costs very quickly. Before initiating communication with your divorce lawyer, decide if the communication is meant to vent or to pass on worthwhile information.
Expecting justice in the courts
Spouses many times believe that if they can just have their day in court, justice will prevail. Spouses who believe that the courts are going to give them justice are often misguided and end up extremely disappointed with the results. Better results and happier divorce endings are often accomplished through mediation and/or stipulated agreements. When a judge makes a decision, it is rarely a win-win decision for both spouses. To manage your expectations of justice in the family courts, you would be wise to consult your divorce lawyer to help you determine what results you can likely expect if your case goes to trial.
Seven Ways to Reduce the Cost of Your Divorce
Here are some quick tips on how to reduce the cost of your divorce.
By Marie Sarantakis Updated: July 08, 2020
Wondering how to reduce the cost of your divorce? You’re not alone.
Divorce is very taxing, both emotionally and financially. You will often feel as though things are spiraling out of control. That may be true in certain respects, but in many ways how much your divorce ultimately costs will very much depend on your actions and choices, irrespective of the path taken by your spouse. Here are some quick tips on how to reduce the cost of your divorce.
7 Tips to Reduce the Cost of Your Divorce
1. Condense the Number of E-mails/Telephone Calls to Your Attorney
This is not to say that you should hold back from communicating with you attorney. Rather instead of e-mailing him/her every time you think of a question, keep a legal pad or a diary handy and make a list of your questions as you think of them.
Then put together a comprehensive and concise e-mail with all of your questions or arrange for a single meeting/phone call. Attorneys typically have a minimum charge per call or per e-mail. Piecemealing your inquiries can become extremely costly. If you ask a series of short questions by sending multiple e-mails, you may be incurring unnecessary billing. Handle as many things at one time as possible once you have your attorney’s attention.
2. Stay Organized
When you send information to your attorney, try to decipher and organize it while it’s still in your possession. For example, if you have a series of documents to tender give a full description of what you have attached. You don’t want your attorney trying to figure out what things mean when you are readily familiar with what it is that you are sending and the facts of your case.
In certain cases you may have to turn over documents to the other side. If you are giving your attorney documents for this purpose, cite the paragraph number(s) that your documents are responsive to. When you have a large number of documents try to send them all at once via a link or thumb drive. In doing so, provide them in chronological order and if something is missing, be sure to indicate exactly what that is. Don’t have your attorney trying to assemble the puzzle pieces. The last thing you want to do is send two hundred miscellaneous documents to your attorney, missing pages, in no order, and in separate e-mails expecting them to arrange your items some assemblance of order. It is a terrible use of your attorney’s time and an even more terrible use of your money. Ask your attorney how they would prefer to receive the documents and how you can organize them beforehand to conserve resources.
3. Never Fight Solely on the Basis of Principle
Only fight for the things that really matter to you and your family. Whenever you decide to engage in a legal battle for the principle, because something seems unjust or because you want the other person to pay the price, you will undoubtedly be spending a great deal of money to only potentially prevail. Things are not as always clear-cut right and wrong to the court as they are to the litigants. Every matter presented to the Court comes with a calculated risk, and even if you win, often times it is not worth the cost or aggravation. Try to avoid having the Court resolve your disputes whenever possible and choose your battles wisely.
4. Keep the Check Ins with Your Attorney to a Minimum
Your attorney has an obligation to notify you when progress is made on your case. If a pleading/response has been filed or opposing counsel has communicated a settlement offer, your attorney will certainly let you know. Family law matters can be very unsettling and sometimes you just want an update. There is nothing wrong that. Just keep in mind that if anything critical had occurred, you attorney would have notified you.
5. Do Not Confuse Your Divorce Attorney with Your Therapist
There is a certain degree of emotional baggage that your attorney is well equipped to handle. They can provide you with some insight as to the timeline of your case, what steps you can take to move things forward, their experiences with this particular issue before, and reassurance as to what the conclusion of your case may look like based on the legal principles of your state. They are on your team and fighting the battles on the frontline with you, but they have a particular role, and are not to be used in place of a therapist.
Your attorney will usually provide a listening ear, but at the end of the day, they are there to resolve your legal problems, not deeper emotional traumas. If you simply want to rant about your ex, and blow off some steam, or simply share your fears, your divorce attorney may be a very costly way to accomplish that end.
6. Keep the Lines of Communication Open with Your Ex
If it is possible, this is probably the single best thing you can do to reduce your overall attorney’s fees incurred in your case. When you run everything past your attorney, who then communicates with your ex’s attorney, who then responds to your attorney, you are really just using your attorney as a conduit for communication. This is probably not the high-level sophisticated work that you are expecting from your legal counsel.
Moreover, if you are able to communicate in an amicable fashion, the frivolous fights will be kept to a minimum and you will, hopefully, be able to resolve your matter without the court’s intervention. Going to hearings, or ultimately a trial, can be incredibly expensive and almost always leads to frustration and regret.
You can’t control your ex’s behavior, but you can control your own. At one point you and this other person intimately shared a vision of the future. You were able to work together to accomplish a bigger goal. Try to communicate with them in a respectful manner devoid any negative emotions, despite whatever has come between you. Then see if they respond in kind. As they say, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Sometimes though, being cordial or communicating at all, is just not possible if an ex is downright awful, rotten, and uncompromising. If trial is inevitable, then get there as soon as possible.
7. Invest in a Scanner
A scanner is a fantastic investment and it will not go to waste even after the divorce. There will be many occasions throughout the divorce process that you will be asked to review and approve documents. While there may be ways to accomplish this without a home scanner, these alternatives may be cumbersome and not appropriate for all of your needs. For example, you may have a way of electronically signing documents. This is a great solution in many respects, but what if you need to send your attorney a set of physical documents in your possession. Maybe you are able to take a picture on your phone. This will likely then require your attorney to convert the document into a PDF, assuming the resolution and quality is even acceptable at all. Then you will be billed for this time. Sure, you can run to the neighborhood copy store but this will become tedious. Moreover, going to your attorney’s office to sign documents could potentially lead to additional meetings and billing. You won’t regret the investment of having a quality scanner as a post-divorce souvenir.
While divorce can often be expensive, there are ways that you reduce the overall costs. Talk to your attorney about your concerns and find out how you can work with them to keep your billable hours to a minimum while ensuring that you remain an active and engaged participant in your litigation.
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