No one who goes through a divorce likes it – ending a marriage, dividing up years of a life together as nothing more than a property inventory, having to plot a path forward that works, and acting in a way that maximizes normalcy for the children. All of these challenges become more difficult when a price tag gets attached – the legal fee.
When you have a medical crisis, you seek out the best doctor. When you have a financial crisis, you seek out the best accountant. In both cases, you will perhaps pay a premium to get the best help – but it seems a small sacrifice to save your life or your business. You could, of course, choose someone less expensive or with less expertise, but you run a risk that you will not get the best outcome. If you would not do that for your physical or financial health, you should not do that with your divorce, where the consequences can be just as severe.
Unlike a medical crisis or financial crisis, however, in a divorce, you have more control over the costs.
First, interview different attorneys. Ask good questions about how they operate, who will do the work on your case, and how that work will be billed. See if you feel a good chemistry with the attorney and if you believe that attorney “gets” you and your case. Lawyers who charge more an hour likely have more experience and credentials. You will need to find your comfort zone – how much expertise to trade for a smaller fee. Also, different attorneys ask for different retainer fees upfront. You need to decide what you feel is within your budget.
Second, once you have chosen an attorney, a good deal of the path forward actually rests in your control. The biggest cost driver in any divorce is conflict – the more two people disagree on more issues, and the more they dig in and want to fight, the longer it will take to reach a resolution. And in a divorce, conflict turns into more work for your attorney which means more billable time. Thus, the easier it is for you to clarify issues with your spouse and agree not to “go nuclear” on one another, the more likely you can keep costs reasonable. Perhaps mediation would be a workable option, at least on some less controversial issues.
Third, define the level of attention you want from your attorney. If you feel you need to speak to your attorney frequently and ask that person to do different tasks, remember that every email or phone call or ask counts as billable time. Also, if the asks of the attorney could easily be done yourself, you could save yourself significant sums.
Finally, the one factor you cannot control is how your spouse will choose to act in the divorce. It may be that despite your best efforts, your spouse wants to generate conflict which forces your attorney to go to work. But if those conflicts are not necessary, or even meritless, your attorney can ask the court to order the other spouse to pay your attorney fees, in whole or in part. So, even in this one-sided situation, you might have the means to get reimbursed for some of the fees.
In the end, only you can determine what level of comfort you have in terms of budget for divorce. But the most important choice you will make after deciding to divorce will be who you ask to represent you and your interests. Choose wisely.
If you have questions about costs in divorce, contact us – we can help.