A divorce can be outrageously expensive, but you can control the cost of your own divorce. Cost control comes from taking the emotion out of the divorce proceeding. Divorce is initially emotion driven. That is what causes the divorce. But once you are ready, or forced into, the actual legal process it is time to leave emotion behind and start thinking about business. Yes, business. The divorce dissolves your legal community (a business of assets and liabilities) as well as terminates your marriage.
The first cost control is to determine if you even need a family law attorney. Over 60% of divorces are completed by the Parties (Pro Se) without hiring a lawyer. If your marriage has been of short duration, without children, or the purchase of real property you can probably do the divorce yourself. There are lots of do-it-yourself kits online. These are guide books with fill-in-the-blank forms. Many county courthouses have government paid “Facilitators” that provide free procedural advice to Pro Se parties at the Court Clerk’s office. Buy the kit, complete the forms, and give a copy to your spouse to see if they will agree. This is an inexpensive attempt at self-help, even if it does not work. Be reasonable in your proposed agreement. Be flexible in your negotiations. You could save yourself a lot of money. For people who do not need, or want, a full serve divorce lawyer to handle all aspects of the divorce, the legal profession has developed “Unbundled Services”. If you want to do the divorce yourself, but have some specific question you can hire the attorney by the hour or by the project. In just one hour the attorney can answer legal and procedural questions, review your proposed documents, and explain some of the legal process. You are just buying the specific legal services you need to go forward with your own divorce. This Do-It-Yourself with a little help can be a very cost effective way to go.
Related Article: 40 Tips on Saving Money During Divorce
If you are confronted with a dispute over custody and parenting plan, child support, or division of significant assets you will probably need a lawyer for your divorce, but you can still keep the cost down. Some important steps to control the cost of your divorce are:
1. Be Reasonable.
2. Prepare before you go into meet with your attorney. Outline what you want, and what your wife will disagree with. Be organized and ready for a business meeting.
3. Be concise and to the point. Lawyers charge by the minute. Don’t waste minutes on chit chat or never ending stories of every problem in the marriage. This is a business meeting with someone who is charging you $4 to $5 a minute. So keep the discussion on the business of getting divorced. You are being charged for each minute whether you are making good use of the time or wasting it.
4. Tell the attorney exactly what you want in the divorce. Don’t make the attorney guess what you want. They may guess wrong. Don’t make the attorney drag the information out of you. Give the attorney good direction as to your priorities. You are not going to win on every issue. Tell the attorney what is most important, and least important, you.
5. Ask the attorney if your priorities are reasonable and achievable. There is no sense in wasting money chasing a goal that you will never achieve. The attorney does this for a living. They have seen hundreds of divorce rulings. They know the judges. So after telling the attorney what you want, have a serious discussion about what you can really obtain.
6. Do not take positions just to anger or hit back. Divorce is a business negotiation. Do not alienate the person you will later want to agree with you. There is no profit in provoking. You know your wife better than anyone else. You have the best insight as to what she will agree to, and what she will fight over. Don’t pay the lawyer a $1,000 to fight over a $100 item. Let it go and save $900 to buy a new one.
7. Be a Team Player with your lawyer. Everything you do yourself saves you money. Round up your needed documents. Take pictures. Contact witnesses. Organize files. Provide lists. Promptly respond to all requests from your attorney. The time you save your lawyer will save you money. If the lawyer has to call you three times to get something, they will charge you for all three calls. If the attorney has to explain the same thing to you three times, you will pay for all three explanations. Listen and think.
8. Lawyers are valuable tools in the divorce process. Use yours wisely.