An old and rather trite joke goes like this: “Why is divorce so expensive?”
Answer: “Because it’s worth it.”
While the punchline may not be appreciated or humorous to some, there is an ounce of honesty in any joke, even this one. Because the truth is, whether it was a mutual decision, or the decision was made for you, when divorce is the only option, divorce really is the only option. This one brings to mind the frustrations I often hear expressed by clients going through the painful and financially and emotional expensive process of divorce, “Why does it cost so much?” and “Is there anything I can do to stop the bleeding?” The answer is, “Yes, there are things you can do to control divorce costs and minimize the financial damage.”
I will examine four ways to control and even reduce the cost of finalizing a divorce:
- Improving communication;
- Being an active participant;
- Engaging (and listening to) your professional team; and
- Exploring alternative dispute resolution options.
Effective communication is the cornerstone of any good relationship. That includes your relationship with your attorney and is a two-way street. Lack of attorney-client communications is one of the leading complaints from clients who are dissatisfied with their divorce proceedings, and can increase the expense of the divorce itself by unnecessarily increasing time spent on issues that otherwise could have been handled by simple and clear communication.
- Examine and communicate your priorities to your attorney. I advise clients to think about and tell me the one or two goals most important to them in the process (e.g., wellbeing of children, financial security). Communicating and remaining focused on the most important goals cuts out a lot of the extraneous issues that often bog down divorce proceedings, impede meaningful settlement discussions, and increase the expense to the client.
- Respond promptly to attorney calls, e-mails, and letters. Read what is going on in your case and follow your attorney’s instructions. The more responsive and involved you are, the less we need to do; for example, this means you needn’t be charged for follow-up letters, e-mails and calls when we don’t hear back from you.
- Provide information we need such as statements, employment and insurance information, e-mail and text exchanges. Nowadays you don’t have to be particularly tech savvy to do this. Nearly everything you need can be accessed on your smart phone. (More on this subject in my future “Being an Active Participant” blog.) It is far more expedient for you to provide your personal information and documents than to have your legal team hunt them down for you or, worse, subpoena things to which you likely already have access.
- Ask us legal questions before acting, especially if you’re not sure. We are here to provide you legal advice and protect your interests. It is far simpler to ask if you should do something you are not sure about than to wage an expensive legal battle with the other side over something you did without running it by your attorney first. Many parenting and other disputes along the way can be avoided by asking questions before you act.
- Send an e-mail instead of making a phone call when you can. E-mails generally take far less attorney time and a quick question can be answered faster with less expense. Bonus: we are often able to respond far more quickly to an e-mail than to a phone call as we can respond whenever we have a moment to do so.
- Be thoughtful and strategic about what you do ask your attorney/legal team. We have knowledge of the legal process of divorce, but are not financial planners or therapists. Our time is often more expensive than that of experts. Narrow your inquiries to your attorney to actual legal questions and save the emotional concerns for those with real expertise in that area. And, yes, getting into counseling saves legal fees and costs overall.
Attorney Communication (you should expect your lawyer and legal team to do the following):
- Promptly respond to your phone calls/e-mails, hopefully within 24 hours unless we are away or in court, and to notify you if we are going to be unavailable for an extended period of time. (When we are away or in court, you can always speak with a staff member with whom we may have contact while away or in court.)
- Provide you with copies of every communication we send or receive in your case, whether good or bad.
- Review important communications with you before they are sent to the court or other side.
- Provide prompt, itemized billing statements to you on a regular (monthly) basis.
- Keep you informed regarding all updates on your case. Not only is it our responsibility to let you know we received a letter or response from the other side or the court, but also of important court dates and deadlines. In addition, we are responsible to inform you of any changes in your legal team which, in some cases, may occur. For example, there are occasionally situations where another attorney or a paralegal may need to handle a particular aspect of your case to save you legal fees or get the task done more quickly. This is something your lead attorney should communicate to you in advance, so there are no surprises.
In sum, you can take an active role in reducing the time spent by your attorney and fees billed to your case by making your communications with your attorney and legal team count, and reducing those that are unnecessary.
More on how you can control the expense of divorce coming soon.