6 Things Divorce Lawyers Will Never Tell You (Part 6)
You Can Take Action To Reduce Your Legal Fees
Going through a divorce can leave you feeling like you are not in control of your life. But by being informed, cooperative and organized, you can actually control the legal expenses related to your divorce case.
- Know Your Options—Knowing which type of divorce (uncontested, mediated, collaborative or litigated) is ideal for your situation will reduce the amount of time your attorney spends on your case. A mediated divorce is always going to be cheaper than a litigated divorce, and an uncontested divorce will be cheaper than a mediated divorce. The option you and your spouse choose is going to have a drastic impact on your legal fees.
- Be Informed And Cooperative—Knowing what you can and should negotiate and what you should just let go will save time and money. The more you and your spouse cooperate with each other, the less time and money you will spend getting the divorce finalized. Be realistic about your settlement, and be willing to compromise on details that aren’t that important.
- Organize Your Documents—Providing documents to your attorney in an organized way will save time and money, too. If your attorney asks for tax returns, bank statements, pay stubs, credit card bills or other documentation of assets and debts, organize the information. Put everything in a file, label it and make it easy to use. The more time your attorney and his or her paralegal spend going through documents or trying to find things, the more money it will cost you. Everyone who touches your file is going to bill you for their time.
Be Careful With Online Forms
A lot of people think they can save money by using online forms and pursuing their divorce without an attorney. If you and your spouse have few assets and no children and you agree on all aspects of your divorce, you might be able to use the online forms successfully. But people rarely have successful outcomes using this method.
The problem isn’t with the forms themselves; the problems are related to the information that isn’t in the forms or templates you can buy online. These forms are not tailored to your individual case. We often see significant problems with taxes and equal division of debts and assets.
Let’s say you buy an online divorce template and begin filling it in. You could tell your spouse, “I’ll keep the house, and you can have half of my 401(k) plan. I’ll pay off the two cars, and you pay off the credit card debt.” It looks like everything has been split right down the middle.
But what happens if your spouse doesn’t or isn’t able to refinance your home in only his or her name, as is required? And what happens if he or she agrees to pay off the credit card debt but doesn’t? Then your credit will be ruined, too. Or what if he or she files bankruptcy and gets out of paying that debt off? All of a sudden, it’s not so fair and straightforward anymore.
Settling a divorce case is not just a matter of reaching an agreement. A lot of underlying legal issues have to be addressed.
Don’t Fall For The Low-Retainer Gimmick
The two biggest mistakes to avoid in your divorce case are (1) hiring an attorney who does not handle uncontested, mediated or collaborative divorces and (2) hiring an attorney because he or she offers to handle your divorce for a low retainer fee up front.
Because most people seeking a divorce want to save money, a lot of lawyers offer low retainer fees to lure clients into their practices for their divorce cases. It might seem like you are going to save a lot of money because the initial retainer is reasonable, but that isn’t what happens at all.
Let’s say a lawyer asks for a $1,500 retainer fee up front to get started in your divorce case. This sounds like a good deal because another lawyer was asking for $5,000. So the attorney starts your case. He files your petition for divorce, files a motion for the interim division and sends a letter to your spouse’s attorney. If he charges $300 per hour, your retainer will pay for only 16.6 hours of his time. At that point, he tells you he needs more money. You tell him you don’t have it, so he withdraws from your case. Then you are left in the middle of your case without legal counsel—a pro se divorce client in the middle of a litigated divorce.
We see this scenario play out all too often. This tactic is so common among lawyers, in fact, that it’s almost a business model that some firms use to attract new clients.
Be aware of this common practice when you interview lawyers. Ask questions to help determine what the total cost of your divorce will be and how much flexibility the attorney can give you in your payment options.