Keeping The Costs Of Divorce Down Is Up To You

by Myra Chack Fleischer
Lead Counsel, Fleischer & Ravreby

There is an old joke about divorce.

Why is divorce so expensive? Because it’s worth it. Plunging into Bankruptcy - Financial Speedometer

Humor is rooted in the truth. The truth is that sometimes getting divorced can cost a lot of money. The legal fees can seem out of proportion after it’s all over and the parties involved tally up what they’ve “won” in the form of spousal or child support or property like a home.

But here is another important truth. The cost of a divorce is largely up to you. Your actions determine whether legal fees keep adding up, or whether they can be managed in a reasonable way and minimized.

These are the recommendations I provide to my own clients when they express the need to control their spending on their divorce.

1. Just the facts

Your family law attorney needs to gather all the facts of your case. He or she needs specific information to prepare certain documents and begin the divorce process. The more efficiently and accurately you can provide the necessary information to your attorney, the easier it is for your attorney to get up to speed and prepare documents. Easier equals quicker, and quicker means less expensive if you are paying by the hour.

Don’t think because you “hide” something it will go away. The truth always comes out. Your attorney prefers to avoid surprises.

2. Honesty is the best policy

As part of the divorce process, each side collects as much detailed information about the other side’s circumstances as possible. Written questions are drafted (called interrogatories), and requests for documents and records are made. Depositions are often used, where witnesses are put under oath and asked more extensive questions with all answers on the record. There is no reason not to be forthcoming with your attorney about the good, the bad, and the ugly. The longer it takes to put the story together, the more it costs.

3. Be prepared

If you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse cannot settle your disagreements outside of the courts on your own, with or without help from professionals, you will end up in a trial. This is when divorce gets expensive. Try to avoid this if possible. Consider Collaborative Divorce or mediation as a more efficient, cost-effective way to work things out.

If you are heading to court, a lot of preparation is required. There are simply no shortcuts. There are endless details that must be gathered and verified. Your attorney must be diligent on your behalf and determine how best to use the facts to best persuade a judge to make a decision protecting your interests.

It takes time to prepare the parties and witnesses for a courtroom appearance. This is a new and intimidating experience for most people. They need to understand what will happen when they provide testimony, especially when they are cross-examined and challenged by the other party’s attorney.

4. Watch the clock in court

Assuming you don’t decide on a resolution along the way, you will find yourself in a courtroom where a third party – the judge – will make decisions for you since you cannot. A family law judge will listen to all of the testimony, read all of the written documents, and consider the total sum of all evidence presented by both sides. The judge will then render a decision on all of the issues on which you and your ex-spouse disagree.

Trials can last a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. Complex cases can last months. Juggling the schedules of everyone involved can make it challenging to get everyone in the courtroom at the same time. Factor in work and family conflicts, sick days and vacations for more delays. If there are lengthy delays, more time is added to get back up to speed.

5. Family court cutbacks

Many family law courts across the country have experienced funding cutbacks from their state governments. The result is often a shortage of courtroom space or a shortage of personnel available for the amount of cases waiting for a trial. It not only takes longer for you to get divorced, it takes even more time invested by your attorney and other professionals involved to stay up to speed. None of this helps the bottom line.

Have you picked up on a common theme? Time is money where a divorce case is concerned.

You can help save costs by working through the process with your attorney as swiftly and openly as possible. Make decisions in a timely manner; get expert help from a licensed financial professional specializing in divorce, and mental health professional if necessary.

For many reasons including cost, consider a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution that keeps you out of the courtroom, but still allows both sides to work through disagreements. A Collaborative Divorce can present an ideal way to advocate for your interests without the enormous investment of time and money necessary for a litigated divorce.

Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Follow Myra on Facebook and on Twitter.

Broken Trust: Advice About Estate Planning During A Divorce

by Meredith L. Brown, Esq.
Brown & Brown

Many couples prepare Wills and Trusts in connection with a happy life event, such as the birth of a child. Frequently these documents are placed in a safe deposit box, never to be updated or even thought about again.

When the unfortunate life event of divorce happens, couples often opt to defer consideration of their old estate planning. No one wants to think about their mortality on a good day, much less when divorce is on their mind. This decision is understandable, but it is probably unwise and potentially costly.

First, a note of caution: if a Petition to dissolve the marriage has already been filed, the law requires that specific steps be taken before changes are made to Wills and Trusts. Similarly, there is an automatic restraint against making changes to beneficiary designations on any insurance. Couples must be sure to comply with these rules.

Family law does not place restrictions on changes to your Advance Health Care Directive after you have filed for divorce. Most couples designate their spouse as their legal voice when it comes to treatment and end of life decisions. Even in divorce situations where couples are amicable, it may not be appropriate for a soon-to-be ex spouse to make these decisions in the midst of a divorce.

How do you decide whether to change your existing estate plan?

The first (and obvious) step is to read and understand your documents. Most couples prepare documents that leave the estate to the survivor between them. Then, ultimately, the estate goes to their children. But this is not always the case, particularly in second marriages.

If you acquired assets after your Trust was created (for example a new home), determine whether title was taken in the name of your Trust. If you hold assets outside of your Trust, you could have the cost of a probate proceeding.

Even if you haven’t done any estate planning but own real estate or other titled assets with your spouse, be sure to check the deed or other title documents. Certain forms of title such as joint tenancy carry with them an automatic right of survivorship. You should consider whether you wish to change the form of title to one without survivorship rights. But before you make any changes, be sure to comply with the notice requirements mandated by law.

Second, ask yourself:  if you were hit by the proverbial truck before your divorce is final, would you want your spouse to receive your share of the estate? If you have children, do you trust that your former spouse will preserve your share of the estate so that your children ultimately receive everything? Would you feel differently if your former spouse sold the marital residence? What if he or she remarried?

Keep in mind that even if you decide to change your estate planning by preparing new Wills and Trusts, your former spouse may still have control over assets you leave to your children, if they are still under age 18. If you do not wish for this to happen, you will need to designate someone else as the guardian of the estate of your children.

As you may guess, determining how your assets are distributed upon your death can be complicated like many other aspects of your life when you file for divorce.  But this is something you need to address for the well-being of yourself and your children. You don’t have to go it alone.  Investing in the advice of an attorney with expertise in estate planning as well as a skilled financial specialist is an investment well worth making.

If you pursue a Collaborative Divorce, a financial specialist is part of your divorce team.  This can be extremely helpful if you are also working through a complex estate plan. It’s another smart reason to consider the Collaborative Process for your divorce.