In my previous article, I discussed a number of factors that make divorce expensive. When you combine a process that involves lawyers with a highly-emotional life change, in which many people understandably struggle to maintain calm and rational behavior throughout, it’s no wonder that divorce is so costly.
As a lawyer who is both conscious of client costs and wants to keep divorces moving peacefully forward, I find myself often asking clients, “Do you want to be able to pay for yours, or my, children’s education?”
It’s an admittedly unsubtle way of reminding clients that my time requires money. Sometimes, it takes that level of directness to help couples to get along better and focus on getting to a settlement – specifically, a couple who is trying to make sure that their children are taken care of, as well as a couple who wants to minimize the negative effects of divorce on their children.
I’m a big believer in preparing well at the outset of a case, in order to prevent costs that can result from unpreparedness later in a case. In a blog article from a few months ago, I discussed the Assessment Process we use at Hance Wickham.
I characterized it as a “first meeting with added value” – because we gather information, determine what type of divorce will work best for the client, plot out a road map for getting to a divorce settlement, and make sure we’re on the same page about what needs to be done.
Divorcing couples who are concerned about the cost of divorce should absolutely consider collaborative law, as it has several built-in advantages for containing and even reducing costs.
Lawyers in a collaborative divorce are committed to settlement rather than taking a case to court – in fact, they’re bound by agreement to not take it to court so they’re focused on solutions rather than winning.
Another important element of collaborative law is that it involves financial professionals and mental health professionals, who generally charge less than lawyers, and are better equipped than lawyers to deal with certain facets of a divorce. And because a collaborative case doesn’t involve a courtroom, those costs don’t factor into the settlement. Although Collaborative Law is not for everyone, and can be expensive itself if the parties are high conflict, it is definitely less expensive than going all the way to a trial of your divorce.
But even if one of you isn’t comfortable with a collaborative divorce, there are things you can proactively do to help decrease the cost of your case. First of all, being upfront with your lawyer about your finances and your personal life – including any relationships you might be involved in – will better prepare him or her for any complications that might arise in the discovery process. Providing all of the documentation of your financial life as soon as it is requested, with no questions asked, will also help move your divorce forward much more smoothly, with less suspicion that you are hiding something.
I also encourage clients to pick their battles when it comes to contesting what the other party is doing. For instance, if a spouse is making unreasonable, unnecessary demands in a temporary order, or is seeking unfair limitations in custody, or is going after an asset that rightfully and solely belongs to a client, I think a challenge is warranted and worthwhile. But not everything in divorce proceedings needs to be contested – if it’s merely an annoyance with no bearing on the final outcome, it might be more judicious to “roll with it” then to fight it. Many of my clients have not felt good about my advice on something like this at the time I gave it, but I have a folder of thank you notes from clients for giving them that exact type of advice.
Finally, I advise all my clients to see a therapist during the divorce process. A therapist’s hourly rate is typically less than a lawyer’s, and a therapist will help you navigate the emotions that come with divorce. As I noted in my last column, people don’t always make the most rational, prudent decisions in a divorce, and if imprudent decisions involve a lawyer’s time, they’ll also include money spent to pay for that lawyer’s time. A therapist can help you with your worst moments in a divorce, in order to get you to a calmer, clearer, more conscientious place. This can increase the chances of your having a “good divorce.” And that’s what you want — I promise!