Divorce is costly in so many ways. By following these suggestions, you should be able to keep the economic costs to a minimum.
1. Consult a reputable divorce attorney
The cost of an initial consultation with an attorney who routinely handles family law matters can save you a significant amount of money. Before you discuss your situation with your spouse and make decisions, you need to know the legal landscape. You need to know what your rights are and what is normal in your situation. Follow the 10 steps to help you survive divorce. For example, I once had a client agree on the division of property with her husband without knowing that she had given up the marital portion of her husband’s pension worth several hundred thousand dollars.
2. Prepare for your initial consultation
Before you ever meet with an attorney, prepare relevant information regarding your assets, debts and ongoing financial obligations. Collect this information in advance and take it with you to your consultation.
3. Self educate
The more you can learn about the divorce process, the better. However, read information from reputable sources. Don’t listen to your non-lawyer friends for legal advice. While they may form a good support group, even if they went through a divorce their lawyer’s advice for them given their personal situation may not be appropriate for you. Don’t read information regarding other states. North Carolina law is unique. The Rice Law, PLLC Web site is one of the most informative sites on divorce law in North Carolina. Educating yourself will enable you to ask your attorney better questions, allow you to perform more of the legwork and reduce your overall costs.
4. Identify the legal issues
Your attorney can help you identify what claims you have and the counterclaims you need to defend. Once you have a clear focus on the issues at stake, you can isolate each and resolve them separately:
- Child Custody – This is often the most costly family law issue to litigate and the litigation itself can be destructive and traumatic. If you can work out a custodial arrangement for your child, you can save significant costs.
- Child Support – Once custody is determined, child support is normally determined by the NC Child Support Guidelines. You can calculate child support yourself. Sometimes, it is beneficial and necessary to deviate from the child support guidelines. Your attorney can help you decide when and if this should be done.
- Spousal Support – If you are seeking spousal support or defending a claim for spousal support, you need to download and complete the Financial Standing Affidavit (FSA). You also need to collect as many paystubs and receipts for expenditures as you can to support the entries you make. By performing this legwork, you will save yourself money and enable your attorney to better help you with this claim.
- Equitable Distribution – Download the Schedule of Assets and make a listing of all of your property. Once you review this listing with your attorney, you can sit down with your spouse and see if you can resolve the division of marital property. If you and your spouse can agree on the division, you can avoid litigation.
- Other – Your attorney can help you identify other claims/defenses
5. Avoid litigation
If you and your spouse can agree on even part of the issues, you can avoid court and enter into an agreement. This keeps your money in your pocket rather than giving it to a lawyer. Mediate, negotiate and settle if possible. By separating issues, you can enter into written agreements on what you can resolve (e.g., custody but not property, property but not custody) without having to try and broker an entire comprehensive settlement. Avoid litigation if possible to reduce costs. However, litigation is often necessary and desireable in some cases.
6. Consider the big picture
Divorcing couples often get carried away by emotion spending thousands of dollars fighting over a cusinart worth hundreds. Consider a logical cost-benefit approach to the actions taken in mediation and/or litigating your divorce. If it does not make legal and financial sense, then don’t do it!
7. Do as much as you can
Ask your attorney what you can do to reduce costs. If you can gather documents, prepare spreadsheets, make copies of trial notebooks, etc., you can reduce the legal fees associated with your divorce. You can also ask your attorney to provide unbundled services where you represent yourself while obtaining advice from an attorney regarding the forms to file and the approach to take. The scope of services can vary widely with unbundled services.
8. Don’t do it youself (DIY divorce)
A do it yourself approach can cost you dearly. I once represented a nice man. His wife decided to file her own counterclaims for his pension. The forms she filed were improper and I got her claims dismissed after the divorce whereby she was entitled to nothing. She lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by refusing to pay a few thousand for a qualified attorney.
9. Whine to your friends
Don’t call your attorney with every little concern you have about the opposing party. By doing so, you will be unnecessarily racking up attorney fees. Similarly, don’t forward every email exchange between you and your spouse. Sleep on it. If it is still important, spend time organizing your thoughts and write a letter to your attorney addressing your concerns. If you must call, call your attorney’s paralegal. It is cheaper to pay them to prepare the summary of your concern than the attorney.
10. Talk with your attorney about the appropriate fee arrangement
One size does not fit all. Don’t Assume a flat fee arrangement will save you money. In fact, a flat fee could cost you more than hourly billing. A flat fee arrangement may give the client the peace of mind of knowing that their costs are fixed but the fee could be more than you would have paid for hourly billing especially if the matter is quickly resolved. Likewise, hourly billing is not always the best approach. Rice Law, PLLC offers three billing options for our clients: unbundled a la carte services, flat fee, and hourly billing. We don’t force you into one option as we recognize that one size does not fit all.
Published December 6, 2009 | Authored by Mark Spencer Williams, Esq. and Managing Member, Rice Law, PLLC