Divorce is an emotionally trying and financially expensive process. When you're going through a divorce, it's not always easy to be able to distinguish the forest from the trees. A major part of controlling divorce expenses is making the right decisions at the beginning of the case. You can control your divorce financially or your divorce can control your finances. Even though your attorney and his staff are more knowledgeable and experienced in the area of divorce, there are many things that you can do to keep down the expense of this very important process in your life. They include:
- Hire a good lawyer. Choosing a lawyer can be very confusing. Clients who are confused about how to hire the right attorney often base their decision upon the attorney's hourly rate. However, an expensive lawyer may end up being a more cost-effective attorney if he or she helps you obtain a better settlement or uses fewer hours in resolving your case. An expensive attorney's rates may be just reflective of his or her costs (suburban versus downtown). Be certain that your attorney has a practice focused in the area of family law. If you have special assets issues (disability, parental alienation, domestic violence issues, inheritances, children born of prior relationships, etc.), make sure that your attorney has some expertise in this area as well. Your friends may be able to refer you to an attorney. But make sure your attorney is Board Certified in Marital and Family Law issues.
- Understand your retainer agreement. Read your attorney’s retainer agreement and understand what you will be charged for during your divorce. Your retainer agreement should tell you what you will be charged for paralegal/legal assistant's time. The retainer agreement also will tell you if your attorney charges for travel, copying, mailing and other expenses;
- Let your spouse pay the filing fee at court. There is a tendency to want to be the one who files for divorce. However, there are costs involved in filing (court costs, the attorney's time in drafting the complaint and supporting documents), which might be borne by your spouse more easily or which you would not have to pay if you wait until your spouse files.
- Be organized. Whether you're preparing for a meeting, sending an email, or placing a phone call, make sure that you have organized your thoughts and documents. Prepare a list of questions or topics that you wish to discuss. Making this list after reviewing your documents will help you stay focused and allow you to get the answers that you want in a time-effective manner. Organize your documents so you can quickly find whatever you need or whatever is being requested of you from your attorney.
- Make sure you know what your attorney is doing and why he or she is doing it. Your attorney is supposed to advocate for your best interests in your divorce. However, if you don't know what your attorney is doing or why a certain task is being done, how do you know your positions regarding various issues in the case are being best represented. Divorce is a situation in which you are usually emotionally distraught. Consequently, it is not unusual for divorce participants to avoid their attorneys because of the pain of dealing with the issues in the divorce or the financial cost of doing so. The problem is, if you don't deal with your divorce, you don't control your divorce, and your divorce will control you. Consequently, it is important that you speak with your attorney about what you want out of the divorce (your goals), whether your "wants" or demands are realistic, and what has to be accomplished in your divorce for you to receive your desired results. Don't be afraid to ask your attorney if something can be done less expensively or tell him or her that you can obtain information or the documentation which may be needed in your case. In addition, do not be timid about asking whether or not you should pursue a certain issue;
- Be honest with your attorney. In order for your attorney to pursue, in a cost-effective manner, the goals in your divorce, it is important that you are up‑front with your attorney regarding all the potential issues and potentially negative facts in your divorce. Being honest with your attorney will allow your attorney to form an effective plan on how to deal with each of your issues or negative facts from the beginning of the case. Hiding information or assets from your attorney can be a costly mistake and it can damage your credibility in front of the judge, which can result in negative findings against you;
- Hire appropriate professionals to deal with the issues in your case. In addition to your attorney, your case may require you to hire other professionals including, but not limited to, accountants, financial planners, and appraisers. These experts can help in providing valuations of privately owned businesses, identifying assets, valuating investment and retirement accounts, valuing real property, and explaining the tax implications of different settlement options. Highly appropriate professionals can save time and save money in a divorce case;
- Talk to your therapist. Divorce is an emotional process. You hire your attorney to assist you in resolving your legal issues. However, as tempting as it may be to talk about your feelings to your attorney, he or she is really only qualified to advise you on legal issues and is not trained to assist you in dealing with the emotional struggles that may come with your divorce. If you are struggling with an emotional aspect of your divorce, you can save yourself time and a great deal of money by hiring a therapist. Therapists will charge you less per hour then will your attorney. In addition, they are far better trained to help you deal with your emotional turmoil;
- Reach an agreement on personal property issues. Judges hate dividing personal property between divorcing spouses. The questions of who should get what piece of furniture or which piece of china or which serving set or which garden tool drives the judges crazy. It is not cost-effective to pay your lawyer to argue over your furniture. Make a list of items that you want, exchange them with your spouse and attempt to obtain a settlement on these particular issues. It does not make a whole lot of sense for each of you to pay your attorneys hundreds of dollars to fight over a $400.00 armoire or a $600.00 couch. People can spend thousands of dollars fighting over a piece of property that neither party really wants. Regardless how much your spouse may want an item or how much you don't want your spouse to get anything he or she wants, if you don't care about a particular piece of property, then don't fight over it. If you both want a television that cost $300.00 to purchase, don't spend $1,000.00 in attorney's fees trying to obtain it;
- Don't ask for information to which you have access. The amount of money you spend on your attorney will reduce the amount of money you keep for yourself or you are able to divide with your spouse. If you have access to records concerning joint bank accounts, credit cards, stock accounts, and other financial accounts, then don't waste money having your attorney request copies of those documents from opposing counsel. You can obtain these documents yourself and provide them to your attorney;
- Calculate your child support. Florida and many other states have state-specific child support guideline calculations. For instance, in Florida, one can locate online a number of Florida child support calculator websites. These websites will automatically calculate your child support. These online calculators may not always be right (remember, if you input the wrong information you will get the wrong answer); nevertheless, they should be able to provide you an estimate of what you will be paying or receiving;
- Don't litigate whenever possible. Don't litigate unless you can’t avoid doing so. Court cases can be both lengthy and costly. There exist a variety of out‑of-court solutions or alternative dispute resolution vehicles. Consider participating in a settlement conference or engaging in mediation or a collaborative divorce. Mediation or collaborative divorce allows the parties to take control and have a say in the outcome of their divorce; and
- Review your bills. Reviewing your bills each month to determine what work you were charged for and to ensure that you understand the charges. If you have questions about the bill, ask them immediately. Do not wait until your divorce is completed to do so.
If all divorce litigants attempt to follow some of these cost-reduction methods, they will find that they will be saving substantial money in their divorces.
Certified Marital and Family Law Attorney Charles D. Jamieson understands that divorce is an extremely sensitive and important issue. Thanks to extensive experience and a focus on open communication, Attorney Jamieson adeptly addresses the complex issues surrounding divorce while delivering excellent personal service. To discuss contested divorce, please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. online or call 561-478-0312.